Detroit Youth Choir confronts gun violence with its version of 'Sweet Child o' Mine'

·3 min read

Ever since soaring to second place on “America’s Got Talent” in 2019, the Detroit Youth Choir has been using its collective voice to address important issues.

In 2020, in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, the young singers recorded a version of the Oscar-winning song "Glory" as a call for racial justice.

Two years later, DYC is again speaking out through music, but this time, it's about the need to find ways to protect schools and communities from the tragedy of gun violence.

The popular Motor City choir’s rendition of “Sweet Child o’ Mine" — the chart-topping 1988 hit by Guns N' Roses — was released Tuesday and timed to the approach of a new school year.

The recording and accompanying video come in the wake of recent mass shootings in Highland Park, Illinois, on July 4; Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, on May 24; and Oxford, Michigan, Nov. 30.

The choice of "Sweet Child o' Mind" pays tribute to Layla Salazar, 11, who was among the 19 children and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. She and her father were both fans of the rock anthem.

“Me and Layla would jam to this on the way to school, and it’s the only thing that’s bringing me peace right now,” her father, Vincent Salazar, wrote on Facebook the day after her death.

According to a news release about the DYC recording, Salazar "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."

A scene from the video for the Detroit Youth Choir's recording of "Sweet Child o' Mine," which the group hopes draws attention to the need for solutions to gun violence and school shootings.
A scene from the video for the Detroit Youth Choir's recording of "Sweet Child o' Mine," which the group hopes draws attention to the need for solutions to gun violence and school shootings.

More than 50 young performers ages 8 to 18 were involved in the recording, which was led by DYC artistic director Anthony T. White.

“This song asks a simple question: 'Where do we go now?'" White said in a statement. "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.”

One of the soloists on "Sweet Child o' Mine" is Gwendolyn Jackson, 15, whose father died from gun violence in 2012.

Said Jackson in a statement, "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.”

More: Detroit Youth Choir sings for racial justice in new version of Oscar-winning song 'Glory'

DYC previously received praise for its version of "Glory" (which is from 2014's "Selma" starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.) from one of its songwriters.

"Beautiful. Powerful. Thank you," tweeted John Legend, who wrote "Glory" with Common and Rhymefest.

An image from the Detroit Youth Choir's video of "Sweet Child O' Mine."
An image from the Detroit Youth Choir's video of "Sweet Child O' Mine."

The creative team that worked behind the scenes to make DYC's version of "Glory" a reality — the London-based experience design company Imagination (which has a Detroit office) and Grammy-winning producer Gerard Smerek from metro Detroit's Yessian music company — again offered support to the "Sweet Child o' Mine" project.

The DYC's recording of the song will be available on major streaming sites.

Along with spreading an important message, the DYC and others involved hope to spotlight the efforts of Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit founded by family members of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The organization is dedicated to taking meaningful steps to prevent gun violence and stop the loss of life.

The Detroit Youth Choir will have open auditions Aug. 27 at Marygrove College for ages 8 to 18. For more information, go to the DYC website.

Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at jhinds@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Youth Choir sings Guns N' Roses song to address gun violence