Late this spring, Kenny Liner had an idea. Baltimore was still reeling from the uproar after the death of Freddie Gray, and he knew students at his after-school music program near the Perkins Homes neighborhood were struggling to process the violence they’d witnessed. He also knew the city’s creative community was searching for ways to give back.
So Liner told one of his classes—which he teaches as part of his program, Believe in Music, a part of the Living Classrooms Foundation—to write lyrics about the unrest. Out came words brimming with hope and resiliency.
“At first, I didn’t know what to write,” says 11-year-old Caprice, also known as “Preecie.” “But then, when I was concentrating real hard and thought about what had happened, I just started writing what was on my mind.” The refrain of the resulting song, “Believe in Baltimore,” begins, “This city is where we live, this city is where we come from. We won’t let it crumble into mass destruction.”
“I wanted it to change how people saw the city,” says 13-year-old Taniyah, a vocalist on the track. “And they would get a kid’s perspective.”
Lyrics penned, Liner contacted Baltimore-based band Future Islands, which had just performed on the Late Show with David Letterman. He then reached out to WTMD’s Baltimore music coordinator Sam Sessa, who enlisted singer Cara Satalino to combine the students’ lyrics. Future Islands’ bassist William Cashion and drummer Mike Lowry arranged the music. Jana Hunter of the band Lower Dens coached the singers.
It culminated with a May recording session at WTMD, at which the students were backed by music-scene elites, all of which you can watch in the video below.
Hearing the recording brought back mixed memories for the students. For Taniyah, the anxiety she felt during the rioting flooded back. Others felt the process was healing.
“It was white people singing with us, and it felt like unification,” says 15-year-old vocalist Yamaudi. “I felt like I was doing something good. We all felt like we were helping.”