By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Six-time Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang a breathtaking rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the 57th Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, thrilling a worldwide audience of perhaps a billion viewers.
"Probably not the most artful phrase, but the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir just killed it," enthused NBC anchor Brian Williams.
“Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir gave me chills,” tweeted @TreDingPlaces. “Absolutely incredible.”
Older attendees recalled that “Battle Hymn of the Republic was Robert F. Kennedy’s favorite song. “Crowds stood on the platforms to sing the Battle Hymn as the train bearing his body slowly went to Washington,” tweeted one. “The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir brought back the same tears of that day.”
An estimated 700,000 people — including former presidents, senators, representatives and cabinet officials — converged on the National Mall for the inauguration. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to President Barack Obama. Immediately before, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered the oath to Vice President Joseph Biden.
Long before the recent presidential election was decided, New York Senator Charles E. Schumer, as Chairman of the 2013 Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, selected Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir to perform at the ceremonial oath of office. Schumer and his wife Iris Weinshall are Park Slope residents.
Three hundred voices strong, choir is a blend of ethnic and economic backgrounds, with members ranging from lawyers and doctors to former drug addicts.
Schumer said last June, when announcing choir’s participation in the inauguration, “As a frequent visitor to their wonderful congregation I know from first-ear experience how amazing this choir is, and I know they will wow the whole nation, too.”
The choir’s founder, Carol Cymbala, and its music director, Jason Michael Webb, are credited with the new musical arrangement.
“The rendition includes orchestral accompaniment punctuated with innovative harmonies—while maintaining the classic feel of one of America’s most beloved anthems,” according to the choir.
Alicia Olatuja, a mezzo-soprano who has performed at Carnegie Hall, led the song.
Julia Ward Howe wrote lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861. The tune was composed around 1856 by William Steffe, according to Wikipedia.
Cymbala, who is the wife of the choir's pastor, Jim Cymbala, founded Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in the mid-1970s with nine members, and the group quickly became integral to the worship services. Services are held in space formerly occupied by the Lowes Metropolitan movie palace on Fulton Street, Downtown.
Over the years, the choir has performed at major venues such as Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. Their legacy includes six Grammy Awards, seven Dove Awards, two #1 Billboard charting CDs and over four million albums sold.
Additional reporting by Francesca Norsen Tate