Former Gov. Markell turns to songwriting, focusing on social justice

DOVER — Governors do a lot of different things after leaving office. Mike Castle and Tom Carper went to Congress. Pete du Pont ran for president. Jack Markell biked across the country and wrote music.

Wait, what?

Mr. Markell, who served as governor of Delaware from 2009 to 2017, announced the release of his first song Wednesday. Titled “Charlottesville,” it is focused on the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which turned deadly.

“I’ve always believed that music can be a force for change, and some of my favorite musicians over the years have been singers who have a message that can move people,” Mr. Markell said Thursday.

(Submitted photo/John Mavroudis) A portrait of Heather Heyer, who was killed by a white supremacist in 2017, composed mostly of the names of civil rights leaders and martyrs. Ms. Heyer is the subject of a song written by former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.

“Charlottesville” tells the story of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman among the many counterprotesters at the Aug. 12, 2017, incident. Ms. Heyer was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd in an act of domestic terrorism.

The song starts and ends with the line “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” a reference to Ms. Heyer’s last Facebook post.

In the aftermath of the violence, President Donald Trump said “both sides” contain “very fine people” and share blame for the incident. Those comments outraged many, among them Mr. Markell, who said he was “pissed off.”

Wednesday, the release of the song, marked the three-year anniversary of the rally and Ms. Heyer’s murder.

“Charlottesville, where she marched for parity

“Charlottesville, stood for solidarity

“Charlottesville, then came barbarity                      

“Charlottesville, where her young life ended,” chimes the chorus.

Mr. Markell does not sing or play instruments, but he has written poetry for fun for many years and long harbored an interest in songwriting. A few months, the former governor recalled, he connected with a songwriting teacher in New York, who helped turn several poems into songs.

Through the Delaware Theatre Company, he got in touch with musicians affiliated with the band Moonalice. Several of them wrote the music to accompany the lyrics, and Moonalice performed the song.

The official video for “Charlottesville” can be seen on YouTube.

Jack Markell

The description for Mr. Markell’s YouTube channel states the ex-governor “is channeling his artistic creativity to raise awareness of social justice issues impacting our country.”

Mr. Markell plans to release another song on Aug. 28, this one about the civil rights movement. While he intends to keep the exact subject a secret for now, he did allow it is “about an important document in our civil rights history and a key player in the civil rights movement is featured in that video.”

The former governor, who rode a bicycle from Oregon to Delaware a few months after his term ended, is also keeping himself busy working with nonprofits and advising presumptive Democratic presidential nominee (and Delaware resident) Joe Biden on health care. Don’t count on him signing up to work with Mr. Biden should Democrats win back the White House, however: Mr. Markell said he does not expect to take a position with a Biden administration.

He has no misconceptions about his ability as a songwriter, noting he will not win a Grammy any time soon. Still, he’s hopeful “Charlottesville” makes people think.

“The answers are within all of us and we should all make a difference,” he said.