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Honouring victims of gun violence and calling for more action in new version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

23 August 2022
Detroit Youth Choir

According to research by the New England Journal of Medicine, an average of 12 children a day die from gun violence in America. Finding solutions to make our schools and our communities safer from gun violence can’t just be down to the families impacted by these tragedies, it is down to all of us. This is the hope behind a new version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” released by the Detroit Youth Choir, and created by Imagination and Yessian Music.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” released by the Detroit Youth Choir.

As kids everywhere return to school, the Detroit Youth Choir released their own take on the song made famous by Guns N’ Roses to call for continued progress in the wake of recent tragedies in Uvalde, Oxford, Highland Park, and Buffalo. The video has already received widespread support, including recognition from former President Obama in his Instagram story.

"A powerful call to action from the young people in the Detroit Youth Choir."

44th U.S. President, Barack Obama

Over 50 Choir members aged between 8-18 years old, under the leadership of Artistic Director Anthony T. White contributed to this new arrangement of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” which was created by Grammy Award winning producer Gerard Smerek from Yessian Music, and creative agency Imagination, the team behind the Detroit Youth Choir’s 2020 anthem: “Glory”.

The group of young singers from the Motor City gained national attention when they won the Golden Buzzer and reached second place on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” in 2019, as well as with their rendition of “Glory” in 2020 calling for racial equality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Alistair Wilson, Managing Director of Imagination Detroit, said; “We continue to be incredibly inspired by this young group of talented change makers from Detroit. Their view of the future is one we all want to live in. We hope our collaboration to lift up their voices inspires others to continue the necessary work to find solutions that make our schools and our communities safer from gun violence."

The song choice was inspired by the story of Layla Salazar, age 11, who was one of the nineteen children and two teachers tragically killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Each morning as her Dad Vinnie Salazar drove Layla to school in his truck, they would sing-along together to “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns N’ Roses. The song, Layla’s father wrote on Facebook, was the only thing bringing him peace right now. Layla’s father Vinnie gave permission for her image to be used in the video that accompanies the recording and has shared his appreciation to the choir for their efforts.

Gerard Smerek, Executive Producer from Yessian said; “Sweet Child O’Mine is an iconic American Anthem that evokes the most precious childhood memories: Where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky. This arrangement is one of hope. Hope that we can honour the victims of gun violence by remembering the light they shone on the world. And a message of hope delivered by the youth of America that we can all continue to work together to find solutions to prevent future tragedies. As Matthew McConaughey so perfectly said in his address at the White House, to honour the victims, “we start by making the loss of these lives matter.”

The Detroit Youth Choir’s Artistic Director, Anthony T. White, said, “This song asks a simple question; “Where do we go now?” While progress has been made, this is no time for complacency, as the lyrics of the rap in the song say: “It can’t take 10 years to ask what’s next.” This version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a poignant call to action from today’s youth to all grown-ups to stay at the table, show respect to one another and continue to work together to find solutions to make our schools and communities safer from gun violence.”

Detroit Youth Choir member Gwendolyn Jackson, age 15, who performs a solo on this version of ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ lost her own father, Marcel Jackson, to gun violence in 2012. Jackson said: “The victims of gun violence are not only those who were killed, it’s also the injured, the ones who witnessed the horror, or like me, who lost a father at the age of 5. Young people in this country have an underlying sense of fear at the movie theater, school, a concert, or at a shopping mall and that’s not right. My Dad believed in community safety, he didn’t just talk about it, he walked the walk, now it’s time for my generation to do something to help us all be safer from gun violence.”

The Detroit Youth Choir and creative team behind this work will also use the song to draw attention to the incredible work by Sandy Hook Promise whose mission is to end school shootings and create a culture change that prevents violence and other harmful acts that hurt children. Through their proven, evidence informed ‘Know the Signs’ programs and by supporting sensible, bipartisan school and gun safety legislation, Sandy Hook Promise teaches young people and adults to recognise, intervene, and get help for individuals who may be socially isolated and/or at risk of hurting themselves or others.

The Detroit Youth Choir’s version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is set to be made available on all major streaming platforms, with the video available on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.