Recorded by M.P. Kuo at John Kilgore Sound & Recording, NYC
Mixed by Scott Lehrer
Art Direction by Helane Blumfield
Photo: Helane Blumfield l Hair & Makeup: Maria Miliotis l Stylist: Prince Riley
© 2020 Gramercy Nightingale Music Co. All Rights Reserved.
ABOUT THE SONG
A Simple Prayer
Celia Berk, vocals
Alex Rybeck, piano
I first heard this song at an evening of music by the wonderful singer/songwriter Michele Brourman in 2018. Making it the encore of her program, she shared that it had been written by her friend Michael SIlversher in the days after 9/11. I was stunned by its simplicity and universality. I asked Michele if she would share the music with me, and with Michael’s permission she did.
I stayed in touch with Michael, a songwriter I had always admired from afar. I let him know whenever I had the chance to perform it. And I told him that whether the occasion was religious or secular, it always seemed to meet the moment. I promised Michael that one day I would record it.
When everything became so fraught and disorienting in mid-2020, this orison for troubled times kept playing in my head. I asked my long-time collaborator Alex Rybeck if he would join me in a studio session I had arranged. Following stringent safety protocols, we recorded in Midtown Manhattan at the height of the pandemic. And, once again, the song met the moment.
When 9/11 happened, I was working on a show with the Jim Henson Company and had an office on the lot, which I shared with my former wife Patty. It was hard to get back to work, writing happy songs that kids would want to dance and exercise with, but we persevered. I sincerely felt, and feel to this day, that joy and dance are the antidote to hate and fear; it felt like a civic duty to carry on.
In October, just before the US invaded Afghanistan, I was getting ready to leave work and drive over Laurel Canyon to my place in Van Nuys. I was listening to an interesting talk show on the local NPR station. The host was having a discussion with representatives of Muslim, Christian and Jewish congregations to see how each reacted to the events of the day. This was followed by a lively discussion about certain catchphrases which were cropping up at the time, specifically “God bless America.” One person said, “I hate it. It’s so jingoistic and falsely patriotic.” Another person said, “It doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s like saying ‘have a nice day.’” Then another guy got on and he said, “I don’t mind saying ‘God bless America;’ I just think that we’re not the only people who need to be blessed.’”
When he said that, this song, “a simple prayer,” came to me, and by the time I had weaved my way home over the canyon, the song was complete, almost exactly as you hear it here. I had the vision of a little boy or girl kneeling by the side of their bed and offering a simple prayer for peace. And that is exactly what the song is, and that’s how I wrote it: kneeling by the side of my bed. When Michéle Brourman had her annual Solstice party that December, I sat down as everyone was lighting candles and sang the song in public for the first time. That was a moment.
Over the years, people have objected to parts of it for one reason or another. I’ve rewritten the lyrics several times, once with Patty, to make it more secular. But this version remains the one that people seem to want to hear.
I am most grateful to Celia for hearing it, singing it so wonderfully, and presenting it to so many more people.