How a Baltimore school choir’s earnest rendition of “Rise Up” broke the internet

Cardinal Shehan School choir director Kenyatta Hardison tells the story of how the “Rise Up” video came to be.

December 18, 2017

Kenyatta Hardison has been teaching at Cardinal Shehan, a private Catholic school in Baltimore, Maryland, for 23 years. This fall, after waking up to a particularly heavy edition of the nightly local news, she looked to her students to bring a little hope and a little more brightness to their peers and family — in the form of song.


On an otherwise normal afternoon of music class, she recorded her kids singing “Rise Up” by Andra Day and posted it to Facebook. Their rendition was warm and earnest, featuring solos from four students, and the performance went viral. So far it has gathered a total of over 20 million views across the board and earned the choir national attention, including a performance on Good Morning America.

Below, Hardison tells the story behind the viral video, with the hope it continues to inspire.

I’m from Baltimore, born and raised — East Baltimore. I still live in Baltimore, right around the corner from the school. This is my 23rd year [teaching at Cardinal Shehan]. I teach music, and I also have a Yatta's Performing Arts program after school, and a summer program — both here at Cardinal Shehan. The kids take drama, dance, creative writing, and then they put on productions, and we intertwine it with the school, so we have a big Christmas production and a big spring production. The older choir starts 3rd grade through 8th, and it's 96 members. Because of what happened with the viral video, we had to make a travel team. The choir that has been performing [on television] is the travel team.

This was maybe the last two weeks of September, because I was going into October 1st, the year anniversary of my mom's death. At that time, I was already going through a hard time. I actually fell asleep with the T.V. on, and I woke up to [news of] the natural disasters, and all the killings in Baltimore. I came to school — we were preparing for the gala — and I was telling the kids, "You know what, I just want you to be free, let's enjoy this." And I thought, I'm going to tape this, put something positive out so that our family and friends could see it, instead of all the bad news.

That's when I went Live on Facebook, and someone said, "I want to repost and share this, can you change the setting?" And that's when I changed the setting to public, and my phone — there was so much going on I had to turn the phone off, reboot it, because it was just going. I had some of my alumnus, my old students calling, saying, "You're going viral, Ms. Hardison!" I was like, "Viral? Okay!" I didn't really know that was a big deal. They were like, Ellen's gonna call you, oh my goodness, it is going up!

We were at three million views on Facebook. I didn't know what to do, so I called channel 45, a Baltimore local news station. I was like, I wonder if this is a big deal. They looked at my Facebook page and said, " Oh my goodness, yes, we wanna try and come in." Then, I talked to someone from The Washington Post, and he happened to be a former music teacher, and he was so in awe. He was like, "I'm writing an article," and that's when it just went up. That's how Good Morning America found out, and I think by the time we got there, we were at 20-something million [views].

It's so interesting that you prepare concerts for your 200 parents who may come, who you hope for. And then, here you go with this video. It's just from a rehearsal, it wasn't like we cleaned up for it and had cameras and lights come in. That was another thing — I was watching YouTube and some of the things people were doing with the kids on there, and I felt, "I wish I could do things like that. I wish I was techno-savvy and I could do all that." Well, someone said to me, "You're pretty much savvy if you have 20-something million people looking at your video!" It's just been awesome. A total change, but the best part is just to be able to be a part of this journey with my kids. They'll never forget it, this moment in their life. You know, we talk about faith, and we talk about prayer, but for the things that are happening, the kids see God working, so it helps them. It kind of stamps it. I just believe that nothing but success will be happening [for them], because they're experiencing some success already.

How a Baltimore school choir’s earnest rendition of “Rise Up” broke the internet