PHOTOS: Cincinnati Musicians Play Violin Vigil for Elijah McClain in Washington Park


Dozens of professional and amateur musicians gathered in Washington Park on July 12 to play a musical tribute to Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after he was detained by police last year in Aurora, Colorado.

McClain was not a suspect in any crime, but in August 2019, an Aurora resident called police reporting that McClain was wearing a ski mask as he walked back from a convenience store. A responding police officer initiated physical contact with McClain within seconds of leaving his cruiser, and, after a brief struggle, forced him to the ground and handcuffed him with the help of other officers. A responding EMT subsequently administered a dose of ketamine, a tranquilizer. McClain suffered cardiac arrest as he was taken to the hospital. He was subsequently declared brain dead and died days later after he was taken off life support.

McClain's family says he was a peaceful person who loved music and studied massage therapy. His death gained national attention after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers May 25 sparked outrage and protests across the country.

"One of the most touching images that will forever be etched in our memories is that of Elijah playing his violin for small kittens inside a pet store," Cincinnati vigil organizer Naimah Bilal said. "He didn't want the animals to feel so lonely. Elijah McClain was a healer... We could use a lot more Elijah McClains in this world."

Similar vigils have taken place in cities across the country. Cincinnati's featured violinists, cellists and other musicians playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," "We Shall Overcome," "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and other pieces. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra partnered with organizers for the event, which welcomed any musician playing a bowed string instrument to print out sheet music and bring it to the vigil to play along.

"As a father of three and a Black man myself who plays the violin, I can only imagine... you know, that could have been me that day," said violinist and organizer Preston Bell as he choked back tears. "His mother is the one who has suffered the biggest loss. She put a lot of time and skill into her son out of love so he could grow up to be someone, to be part of society."

Cincinnati Boy Choir Artistic Director Jason Alexander Holmes and St. Barnabas Episcopal Church Director of Choirs Joshua Goines volunteered to conduct musicians.

"This cause is close to my heart," Goines said. "Let's do what we all love to do, and what Elijah loved to do — make music."

07/12/2020 | Photos by Nick Swartsell