TALLAHASSEE — It's not exactly Marian Anderson singing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. But Star Swain's rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at the national landmark was the sort of life-changing performance few who've heard it will soon forget.
Swain, a former Florida A&M Marching 100 trombonist and vocalist, has been thrust into the digital national spotlight after an impromptu a capella rendition of the National Anthem has gone viral, being viewed by millions on Facebook and other social media.
Swain, 34, said she and her family were in Washington, D.C., on vacation two weeks ago with Marcus Henderson, minister of music at her church, and his family, along with Godby High assistant principal Benny Bolden and his family.
They were inside the Lincoln Memorial, when and Henderson started talking about the superior acoustics inside the landmark.
“I said, ‘I could break out and start singing The Star-Spangled Banner,'" Swain recalled Monday. That was enough to get Henderson and Bolden to start urging her on.
At first, Swain said she was too nervous. When she started singing in front of other tourists, she didn’t realize Henderson had started videotaping. Unlike Anderson's historic 1939 concert performance, Swain's was apolitical and impromptu.
“I was in that moment. I just closed my eyes and started singing," she said, her voice still giddy with excitement. "Marcus was videotaping the whole time.”
She couldn't believe the response of the tourists who heard her sing.
“People just started saying, ‘That was awesome, thank you,’“ she said. “One lady had tears in her eyes. I was kind of glad it was over. It was like a sigh of relief.”
That was only the beginning. Later that day, the video was posted on YouTube. A few people saw it, but nothing spectacular. It wasn't until the following Monday that the world began to take notice.
“Someone put it up on their Facebook page, and the rest is history,” said Swain.
The first person to post was Kermit Virgil, a friend from her days in the Marching 100, when she played trombone from 1999-2002, while she was completing her undergraduate degree in African-American studies.
“He shared it with our band alumni association and it just went off the chart,” she said.
Virgil’s page attracted more than 2 million views. A second person, Nay Nichelle, also posted the video. It also attracted millions of views, Swain said.
“It has really blown my mind,” said Swain, who many will recall singing gospel tunes, Order My Steps and Praise is What I Do, with FAMU’s Marching 100.
“I am totally humbled,” Swain, who is pursuing a doctorate in educational policy and evaluation at Florida State University, said of the viral explosion.
Those who are used to hearing Swain sing on Sundays are delighted by the response to the video. They aren't surprised.
“Finally,” is the response Pastor Quincy Griffin had to the incredible response to his church’s praise and worship leader at Family Worship and Praise Center in Tallahassee.
“I’ve known Star a long time, since college at Florida A&M University,” said Griffin, pastor of the church in Tallahassee. “I’ve seen her sing with the Marching 100 before 50,000 to 60,000 people at the Florida Classic.
"I’ve seen her captivate audiences. I’ve been waiting to see her captivate the world,” Griffin said. “Her voice, it’s not just ordinary, it’s extraordinary. Her voice is bigger than singing. People get freed of sadness, depression. It’s a healing that’s even beyond the words that she sings.”
The Jefferson County Middle/High School assistant principal spent much of Monday doing media interviews. She said the response from around the country has been “overwhelming.”
“I’m in complete shock right now,” she said. “We pray that great opportunities touch more lives in this way through music. I’m hoping that it will open up floodgates so we can do great things, for myself and others. If I can do this with the gift that God gave me to touch more lives, then that is what I want to do.”
Yanela G.McLeod, a longtime friend of Swain’s and fellow church member, said members are treated to Swain’s vocal talents weekly and are spoiled by her talents. That’s why she is so pleased to see her friend taking her musical calling to a higher level.
"The fact that she sang the national anthem at the Lincoln Memorial has played a major role in having people connect to that experience. She is connecting to people who are proud to be Americans," McLeod said. “It is beautiful to watch God use this social media platform to present her purpose and anointing to the world. She is so deserving.”
Follow Byron Dobson on Twitter: @byrondobson