Soldier's little sister sings in YouTube hit
Feb. 12, 2007
By Barry Simmons*
CACHE, Okla. (UMNS) - Six-year-old Heather Martin, accompanied only by her mother on piano, has become an overnight Internet sensation for a song performed at their rural Oklahoma church.
Written for her brother Shaun serving in Iraq, the song became one of YouTube's most requested videos of all time in December after a member at Cache First United Methodist Church recorded and posted Heather's performance on the video-sharing Web site. The video had received 1.7 million hits as of early February.
"My friend called me Christmas Eve and she says, 'They've featured your video and the numbers are just going up and up,'" Cindy Martin said of her daughter's video. "She said, 'It's going to snowball.' And sure enough, she was right. It's snowballed."
Since then, the song has aired on radio station KMGZ-FM in nearby Lawton, Okla., and has become a hit among soldiers overseas.
"I've seen an incredible outpouring from the community and from the church," said the Rev. Jennifer Long, the family's pastor, who in 2003 lost a family member in a grenade attack in Iraq. "It's opened a lot of hearts to let out some things that people have been holding in."
Cindy wrote "When Are You Coming Home?" after learning that 22-year-old Shaun would not be home for Christmas. She and Heather performed the song to give Shaun as a Christmas gift.
"When I had told (Heather) that he wasn't going to be home for Christmas, she reacted so sadly," Cindy said. "When I was writing the words, I thought it just really made sense that ... it should be written from her point of view."
The video was recorded during a church service. With her mother playing piano off-camera, Heather stands in front of the pulpit and earnestly sings the lyrics, including a chorus of:
"When are you coming home, Shaun? "When are you coming home? "We lit up the house like we always do "But it doesn't seem right because we can't hug you. "In my prayers I ask God to keep you safe. "And I'm trying to be really brave. "Tell me that the fighting's through. "Come home! "I really miss you.
"It makes me cry every time I hear it," said Judy Runnels, who saw the original performance. "I think the fact that a little girl is singing that about her brother is very touching."
The Martins' church since has posted other videos of Heather singing in church. Her version of "God Bless America" has been viewed more than 19,000 times. Members say posting such videos is a way to connect with troops far from home.
"Of the key things that I think resonates with soldiers is that it brings a little home to them," said Cache Mayor Nolan Watson, who attends Cache First United Methodist. "It's very personal. It reaches out and touches you."
Cindy's song has been interpreted by some critics as an anti-war anthem, but friend Cindy Williams, who shot the video and posted it on YouTube, said it's not meant to make a political statement. "It's simply about a family that is missing a brother," Williams says.
Cindy echoes that sentiment. "Irregardless of how you feel about the war, we've got people over there serving our country and we should just support them as human beings," she said. "And that's what I'm trying to do for Shaun and other people like him."
Since making YouTube's featured list, Heather and her mother have received an outpouring of cards and letters. Their video, meanwhile, has drawn almost 6,000 comments on the Web site ranging from supportive to vitriolic.
The mother-and-daughter occasionally are asked to perform their song at churches, restaurants and nursing homes. "Sometimes I still get emotional," Cindy said. "Sometimes I'll watch her when she's singing it and it'll get to me again."
Spc. Shaun Martin, who was deployed last June with his counter-intelligence unit near Baghdad, is due to return home sometime in 2007. Cindy says he has shared the song with other soldiers, who are able to access YouTube.
"I feel like we're singing it to our son," she says. "And it feels like it almost brings him home for a little while."
*Simmons is a freelance producer based in Nashville, Tenn.
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