Back when people knew her as Genleah Crawford, she was a talented young singer in Macon.
Her middle name was Star.
As an adult, she goes by her married last name, Swain. She dropped the “Genleah” and is known as G. Star Swain.
Now, after a video of her singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” last month at the Lincoln Memorial went viral, America knows what a star she is.
With her eyes shut, her husky, booming voice echoed at the renowned Washington, D.C., historic site.
She was there visiting a couple of weeks ago and friends urged her to belt out the national anthem. They captured the moment on video. Within days, she was an internet sensation. The video has been viewed millions of times.
In recent days, she has appeared on news programs and other shows in New York City. On Friday, she sang on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Swain is an assistant principal at a middle and high school outside Tallahassee, Florida, the city where she went to college at Florida A&M University.
Persistent friend spurred song
Perhaps one reason the video has caught on is how reluctant Swain was to sing the song at first, but once she started, she went all out.
She said the person heard on the video egging her to do it was Marcus Henderson, a musician at her church.
“They weren’t going to leave me alone about it,” she said. “I thought ‘If I don’t do this, they are never going to let me hear the end of it.’ I just went for it.”
As she sang the first verse, no one seemed to notice her. She said she was so nervous, she was shaking.
But as she went on, the power of her voice started to draw the crowd toward her. By the end, she was surrounded. A loud round of applause and cheering erupted when she finished.
That also brought some security guards armed with assault rifles running up the stairs into the memorial. One female guard is seen smiling and talking to Swain after she finished.
“She said they heard screaming and didn’t know what it was,” Swain said.
Her friends then encouraged her to post the video on YouTube. She was excited to see it quickly get 1,000 views. Then it got 10,000, and she was shocked when it got to one million.
Then it kept going.
The last time she checked, it had been seen more than 30 million times. People from around the country have called and emailed her. Veterans, parents of active duty troops and others have told her how much it stirred them.
“People have said they have been just overwhelmed with joy and peace in hearing the song,” she said. “I didn’t imagine it would touch people in the way that it has. We’ve had people say ‘I feel a new sense of pride in my country.’ ”
And, of course, she has gotten many requests to sing the national anthem.
She aspired to be a singer
A Telegraph feature about her in May 1996, when Crawford was 14 and student at Northeast High School, mentioned how she aspired to be a professional singer. She sang a lot of gospel music.
“I sing the way God leads me,” she said. “I want to be a role model. I want to bring other people to Christ.”
She sang at weddings and other gatherings and, at age 12 and a pupil at Progressive Christian Academy, belted out the national anthem at a Macon Braves game. Two years before that she performed in front of thousands at the National Baptist Convention in the Georgia Dome.
While in college in Florida’s capital city, she sang the gospel song “Order My Steps” at Gov. Jeb Bush’s inauguration.
Swain was raised off Shurling Drive, not far from Walnut Creek on Macon’s east side. Her father, who is retired, worked for a concrete company. Her mom works as an institutional program director at the Macon Youth Development Campus, and is also pastor of Mount Hope CME Church in Milledgeville.
Her mother, Sheila Crawford, said she is “in awe” of her daughter, but seeing her daughter’s meteoric rise to internet fame wasn’t so much of a surprise. Swain has always been a talent.
“To some it seems like it all just happened, but to me, I knew it was coming. I named her Genleah Star ... because I said, ‘She’s gonna be star,” Crawford said.
“Now for the world to know what a gift she has, that’s truly exciting. I have always said that the world needs to hear her voice. ... Not just because of singing, but the sound of her voice it just resonates healing and encouragement. ... That voice is just calming.”
Crawford said her daughter is “very humble, very thankful and very grateful that people have recognized her talent.”
She thinks Swain’s powerhouse vocals connected with a broad audience not only because of its deep, rich sound, but also because of the tune she sang: the national anthem.
“It was just something about her singing that song that touched a lot of different cultures ... a lot of different people at a time when this country really seems like it needs healing,” Crawford said.
“It was just like this calming voice that is singing something about, ‘Hey, let me stop and listen. This is our country. The flag is still here. The patriotism is still here.’ ”
Telegraph writer Wayne Crenshaw contributed to this report.