This morning, R&B star Pharrell Williams paid a visit to Mother Emanuel AME and performed “Freedom” with the church’s gospel choir. Williams first released the track this year on June 30, nearly two weeks after the Emanuel shootings.

Reverend Norvel Goff introduced the special guest to the congregation, saying Williams would be leading the choir in a “hip song.” Moments before, the entire church was on their feet singing and clapping as the choir sang an offertory hymn and the band – including a trumpet player and a lone tambourine shaker in the congregation — played in the balcony. The joyous atmosphere was just right for the performance to come.

Wearing a black tuxedo, Williams addressed the church members earnestly, noting he’d visited a few other places in the area, including “the wharf.” He wasn’t more specific but perhaps he was referring to the waterfront site downtown that was once Gadsden’s Wharf, the former port of entry for African-Americans and the site where the African-American Museum will stand in a few years.

The singer also commended the church on its strength — enduring fire, an earthquake, and the rain and wind of hurricanes throughout its existence.

His appearance was brief — no more than about 15 minutes long — but the song was clearly inspiring. After Williams left the room, the reverend proceeded with the service, basing his sermon on Psalm 137: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

Williams’ performance will appear along with a discussion about race on the A&E program Shining a Light: Conversations on Race in America on Fri. Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. The two-hour presentation will feature music from other big names, like Bruce Springsteen, Jamie Fox, and John Legend.

Local poet and musician Marcus Amaker, who has written Emanuel AME-inspired poetry for both the City Paper and August’s Hi Harmony concert at the Charleston Music Hall, was among those interviewed for the program over the weekend.

Shining a Light will also feature conversations with family members of victims, community leaders, law enforcement officials, and clergy from Charleston, Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson in an effort to empower communities by fostering understanding, eliminating bias, and addressing inequalities.

We were welcomed to the service today, however phones and cameras were not permitted. So while we don’t have a photo to share with you, we’re also pleased that the network respected the sanctity of the church and its members, keeping the focus firmly on praise and worship.

Update: The A&E network provided us with a photo this morning we’re happy to share. 

YouTube video

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