The Extraordinary Boy with the Angel’s Voice
That’s the question everyone has been asking.
He’s Humphrey Keeper. He’s 12-years old. And yes, he’s British.
He’s a fairly unknown lad who sang his heart and soul out during a solo rendition of England’s famous hymn, Jerusalem, at Friday’s opening Olympic ceremony. With his fellow choristers, his hauntingly beautiful song and crystal clear voice brought silence and tears to the eyes and ears of thousands in attendance– and to the millions watching him live around the world.
It was an amazingly moving moment.
I’ve heard a dozen versions of Jerusalem; some good and others quite tepid. This one, though, was spectacular and one of the best I’ve heard. The boy’s got pipes. His pitch, note, and timing were perfect. He was composed, confident. Others went so far as to say he ‘has the voice of an angel.’
The song Jerusalem comes from William Blake’s famous 1804 masterpiece poem that was composed to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. Originally entitled And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time, it has become one of England’s most beloved and well known patriotic anthems:
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land
Chosen to sing live and unaccompanied at the Olympic ceremony, the young Mr. Keeper was surrounded by fellow members of the Dockhead Choir, a group of 40 children and teens from two parishes in South London.
Mr. Keeper began with the first two stanzas of Jerusalem before the choir wove into the melodies of Danny Boy, Flower Of Scotland, and Bread of Heaven, each piece representing the four nations of the British Isles, until returning back to sing the final stanzas of Jerusalem together.
Something of a mystery, little is known about this young singer who came out of nowhere. Sharing the stage equally with his Dockhead Choir-mates, he has avoided exposure or publicity. Nothing about his background or life has been written. Photographs of him are rare and difficult to find. A solo photo doesn’t seem to exist.
The lad has faced his share of challenges reaching for this Olympic moment. Never having taken a proper singing class in his life, he was “cast” as the lead chorister 10 days before the opening ceremony. Take a close look at the top right picture. Mr. Keeper is a member of REACH, an organization helping children and families suffering from a full or partial loss of limbs due to accidents or necessary surgeries.
Even London’s UK Daily Mail would only report:
Humphrey Keeper’s note-perfect rendition of Jerusalem was one of the most poignant moments of the ceremony. But behind the spellbinding voice, viewers were unaware of the extraordinary journey the 12-year-old choirboy had made to take his starring role.
When Humphrey was born without a hand on a malformed left arm, his parents were ‘shocked and dismayed.’ His mother Samantha said that during the early months of Humphrey’s life she was ‘worrying about the challenges he would face.’
Before the Olympic performance, Humphrey had only sung as a ‘background’ chorister in his school choir.
But on Friday, the stadium fell silent as he sang the first chorus of the English anthem.
Humphrey’s father Lee Keeper, of Forest Hill, South London, said he was ‘extremely proud’ of his son, adding: ‘Humphrey has been loving all the attention. And why shouldn’t he be? He did brilliantly.’
You can decide for yourself after listening to Mr. Keeper and the Dockhead Choir’s song in the Isles of Wonder link above.
The first hour of the opening 2012 Olympic ceremony with Mr. Keeper and the choir can be found here, starting about one and a half minutes in. The whole ceremony, if you didn’t catch it, was a dramatic eye-opening number orchestrated by English film maker Danny Boyle illustrating England’s struggles moving from an agrarian society to one dominated by the Industrial Revolution, which Blake’s poem purposefully underscored.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t include another famous and snappier Jerusalem rendition banned by the BBC done by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer—but unfortunately without Mr. Keeper’s fine voice.
He may be unknown, he might only be 12, and he may suffer from a serious physical challenge, but the young Mr. Keeper couldn’t be kept back from delivering his greatest given talent of all: his voice.
His stunning performance, done live for the first time before an audience of millions, was truly a rare and remarkable achievement to behold. Mr. Keeper and the Dockhead Choir’s Jerusalem has become a You Tube hit throughout Europe.
As the world’s athletes earn their 2012 Olympic medals, Mr. Keeper certainly deserves a special medal to call his own.
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Photo credit: the Archdiocese of Southwark
(Thank you, Sue. For you)