On August 28, 1955, the body of a fourteen-year-old African American boy named Emmett Till was discovered in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. The body had been horribly mutilated before being disposed of in the river, as part of a senseless, racially motivated crime. Till’s mother held an open casket funeral in order to express the severe brutality that was endured by her son. Thousands and thousands of people attended the funeral, bringing massive amounts of attention to the Civil Rights Movement. Because Emmett Till flirted with a white woman, he was brutalized and murdered. How horrifying is that? Though 1955 was 60 years ago, Melody Gardot reminds us why it’s important to remember Emmett Till’s story through her epically potent music video for her song “Preacherman,” from her new album, Currency Of Man.
This masterpiece of a video opens in black and white, with two young African American boys walking through a big, open field in Mississippi. They have their fishing rods in hand, as they continue to trek down a path, through the woods, toward Tallahatchie River. The boys hook their bait, as the seemingly older boy instructs the younger boy how to properly cast his fishing line into the river. It begins to rain, but the boys stand patiently waiting for a bite until they spot a human hand rising up from the depths of the river. The sound of a bluesy guitar enters, ever so slightly, as Melody Gardot’s voice emotionally reels us into the beginnings of the song. The boys bring a middle-aged woman, also African American, to the river, where she slowly enters the water to find Till’s body tied down. She struggles to break him free from the ties as the music becomes more prominent and dramatic. The woman eventually rises from the water with the body in her arms as the camera zooms on her distressed face, and the booming bluesy guitar riff signifies the actual beginning of the song.
A must-see, this beautifully filmed and produced video is extremely chilling and upsetting. Melody Gardot sought to bring attention to a story that should be known by all and should never be forgotten; and she does just that. The blues guitar is powerful and aggressive, demanding your attention, as Gardot’s wonderfully smoky tone perpetuates the horror of what’s depicted on screen. We are taken on the journey with the woman who holds the body of Emmett Till in her arms as she walks from the river, through the woods and a field, and over the railroad tracks. The music and the video blend together so seamlessly that right as the music completely cuts out for the haunting a capella line: “left him there to die,” that booming bluesy guitar riff is perfectly reintroduced, so powerfully and artistically. The pain on the woman’s face is so clear. It’s simply raw and painful to look at.
The woman continues to walk on her journey, with Till’s body in her arms, as she passes by African American workers in a field. The workers stop what they are doing to look at the horrific sight, as the disappointment is apparent on their faces. She continues down the streets of town, where many African American on-lookers watch in disappointment. No one looks shocked, and no one leaves their spot to address the woman with the dead boy in her arms. The rain picks up as she walks by a house full of white folks on the porch. They just stare at her, emotionless. She stops for a brief moment as the lyrics say, “let the water wash me and clean me, honey, man don’t stole my pride.” This line holds true both for Till as well as the woman. The rain drips down her face, as she stares back at the white folks. She continues on her walk, staying strong and holding it together. It’s hard to watch this video, but you can’t look away from this woman and her determination to stay strong in the face of the prejudicial on-lookers. She doesn’t want to appear weak, and she succeeds in that.
As she approaches the church, she begins to break down. As she cries, you can see the hurt, the anger, the frustration and the determination all in her face, at once. Through the mix of emotions, the priest opens the doors, and she walks into the church. The saxophone solo brings a different element to the song, as the woman has reached her destination. Maybe that was the only place she felt like she could go, maybe it was the only place to be safe and the only place to truly allow your emotions to live. She prays in despair, as the tears stream down her face. She breaks down to the melody of a church choir. The hints and pieces of gospel are comforting, as this woman can finally lean on someone and display her true feelings about the situation. She didn’t have to put up a front anymore; she was safe. The heartbreak is apparent on her face, and the video is so well done that I was also in tears by this time. The video and song concludes with the sound of prayer and the visual of the haunted-looking Tallahatchie River, as the screen fades into black.
This is one of the best music videos I have ever seen. I was moved, I was touched, and I felt pain. The song only furthered the incredible experience I had of watching this video. It’s so important that we never forget what happened to Emmett Till, but also that we look at it from a larger perspective. Even now, in 2015, racism still exists. Petty, racially motivated crimes still occur, and that’s horribly sad. On an even greater scale, hate crimes of all kinds still exist, whether they are based on race, religion, sexuality, disability, among so many others. Discrimination still exists, causing senseless, heinous crimes to be committed all the time. We can only hope for things to change in the future, but I’m so glad that Melody Gardot brought this poignant piece to us all in memoriam of Emmett Till. She really says it all in her lyrical declaration: “I believe in a world where we all belong.”
Article: Alex Feigin