Drew Velting wanted people to remember the name of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who died protesting white supremacists in her hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.
The Merrick singer-songwriter said that when he was watching the Charlottesville riots on television, all he could think of was the Bob Dylan classic “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”
“Hattie Carroll was a black woman who was killed by a wealthy white man and the song was about racial hatred,” Velting says. “I thought this was another case of a death that could be attributed to racial hatred.”
He quickly wrote “The Mournful Death of Heather Heyer” around the chorus of “Fare thee well, Heather Heyer, I ain’t seen your shadow no more. But when I get marchin’ I know you’re beside me, ‘cause angels are hard to ignore.”
Velting says he sent the song to Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, before he released it and she asked him to change a line to depict her more accurately, which he agreed to do. He also pledged to donate all proceeds from the song to the Heather Heyer Foundation, a scholarship.
But when Velting released the song and the video for “The Mournful Death of Heather Heyer” in August on the anniversary of Heyer’s death, he wasn’t prepared for the response.
“I really didn’t think it was provocative,” Velting says. “I guess I should’ve realized that there might be some negative response to it . . . But I was stunned initially. There was so much hate from members of the alt-right. But that’s what members of hate groups do.”
Given such a strong negative reaction, Velting had to make a quick decision. “I wanted to delete the comments because I didn’t want the song to be a platform for hate speech,” says Velting, who is also a clinical psychologist. “I ended up checking out their sites and if they were neo-Nazis, I blocked them. The whole thing was fascinating and eye-opening.”
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The experience was also inspiring to Velting, who says he has been writing more songs and playing more area concerts recently and hopes to release an album by the end of the year.
“I’m glad that I did it,” he says. “I think it’s good to look around and try to make a difference where you can.”
Drew Velting plays a Halloween-themed show at the Bethpage Public Library, 47 Powell Ave., Bethpage, on Sunday, Oct. 28, at 2 p.m. and at Corner Galley, 5411 Merrick Rd., Massapequa, at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2.