In one of the most emotional performances of the 60th Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, country artists Maren Morris, the Brothers Osborne and Eric Church delivered a mournful version of “Tears in Heaven” in honor of the victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas.
Each of the performers onstage was on the roster at the country festival, which was interrupted when a gunman in a 32nd floor room at the nearby Mandalay Bay Hotel opened fire on the concert attendees below. He killed 58 people and himself.
Eric Clapton’s 1992 weeper “Tears in Heaven” was written for a more personal tragedy — the 1991 death of Clapton’s son after a fall from the 53rd floor of a New York City apartment building. The song has since become a go-to mourning ballad.
Before they started, Morris dedicated the song to the victims, adding that “a continent away, the same was true in Manchester, England.”
She was referring to the killing of 22 pop music fans, many of them teenagers, by a bomber at a Manchester concert by artist Ariana Grande. The victims were killed when an explosive went off as the concert was letting out.
Added Morris at the Grammys: “The painful truth is that this year, in just those two events, 81 music lovers, just like us, went out to enjoy a night of music and never came back home.”
Since the Las Vegas massacre, Morris has been one of the few country artists to speak in favor of stricter gun legislation. “I didn’t really know how to help, except stand up and encourage people to change legislation on gun rights,” she told the Guardian last week, and added that “there’s a lot of staying out of the conversation and sweeping it under the carpet so as not to polarize their audience.”
She may have been referring to the way the tragedy was handled at the Country Music Awards a month after the shootings. Rather than take sides in the polarizing issue, the broadcast was criticized in some circles for dancing around the hot-button topic of gun control. Co-host Brad Paisley pointed the way when he said, “The way we see it, the best way to honor our fans is to play our music, loud and proud.”
For his part, Church has been less vocal but echoed the sentiment when, during a performance at the Grand Ole Opry not long after the shootings, he introduced a song he’d written in an attempt to come to terms with the tragedy.
Called “Why Not Me,” he debuted it by saying: "That night something broke in me, and the only way I've ever fixed anything that's been broken in me is with music."
On Sunday, Morris concluded her dedication by saying, “For those we lost, Eric, Brothers Osborne and I, who all performed in Las Vegas that tragic weekend, wanted to come together and honor the memory of the beautiful, music-loving souls so cruelly taken from us."
The country singers’ Grammy rendition featured all the heartbreak of Clapton’s delicate original, with added twang. Morris, Church and brothers T.J. and John Osborne traded verses and harmonized, singing Clapton’s hopeful lines about heartbreak and the hope of an afterlife.
They did so before a backdrop featuring names of the victims, seemingly handwritten but, in fact, carefully scripted by those working in production for the Grammy Awards.