It was a public introduction of the American civil rights movement to the British monarchy.
The British monarchy took a step toward progress on May 19, 2018, with the wedding of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan Markle of Los Angeles, California.
One of the most beautiful and important moments in the wedding ceremony of the prince and Markle, who has a black mother and white father, was a gospel performance of “Stand By Me” by The Kingdom Choir conducted by Karen Gibson. While hymns and classical music are customary at royal weddings, the performance of an American civil rights-era anthem by a black choir in the face of the monarchy broke lines of color and class that have held for centuries.
Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir. The Choir is made up of a group of British artists dedicated to creating a sound that demonstrates the community they share, and has been performing both nationally and internationally for over 20 years. pic.twitter.com/tae19p6G6E— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) April 24, 2018\n
Written by Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller and released in 1961, “Stand By Me” was inspired by a worship song. It became a rallying cry for solidarity in the face of oppression in the 1960s and holds the same power today.
“Stand By Me” is one of the most covered songs of all time with notable releases by John Lennon in 1975 and Maurice White in 1985. It hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in its initial release and reached #9 in 1986 after being included in the film of the same name. Just five weeks before King’s death in 2015, the song was included in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The Kingdom Choir is from southeast England and has been performing for over 20 years. Gibson, the conductor, has held gospel workshops across the U.K. and Europe as well as Nigeria, Japan, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and the U.S. She conducted a mass choir for the Concert for Diana in 2007 and has performed for dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II, and Pope Benedict XVI.
At the end of the wedding, as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Harry exited the chapel, The Kingdom Choir performed the American gospel song “This Little Light.” One can hope the light of inclusivity that was lit inside that chapel will continue to shine brightly for generations to come.