A nurse from Michigan kicked off the 2021 inauguration celebration in an especially poignant way.
On Tuesday evening, Lori Marie Key, who went viral in April for her rendition of "Amazing Grace" during a shift change, sang the same song in honor of the 400,000 Americans who've died from COVID-19. She took the mic at an event organized by Joe Biden's Presidential Inaugural Committee and held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Tuesday night.
"Working as a COVID nurse was heartbreaking," Key said before singing. "It was heartbreaking for the patients who are sick, it was heartbreaking for the families who couldn't be there with them and it was heartbreaking for those caring for them."
"But when I'm at work, I sing," Key said. "It gives me strength during difficult times and I believe it helps heal."
After Key's performance, Biden thanked her.
"I mean this from the bottom of my heart, if there are any angels in heaven, they're all nurses," the president-elect said. "We know from our family experience what you do. The courage, the pain you absorb for others. So thank you, thank you."
Gospel singer Yolanda Adams also performed "Hallelujah," and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, delivered the invocation.
"At this twilight hour, our beloved nation pauses to remember and to pray for the many thousands of people who have died from the coronavirus in this past year," Gregory said at the beginning of the memorial ceremony. "This virus, more than taking the lives of too many of our citizens as well as people around the globe, has left in its wake a sobering awareness that we are all united in the sorrow that we recognize today."
He added that he prays not just for those who have been lost but also for their surviving families.
"We pray for the countless families and relatives who had to surrender their loved ones without the comfort and the consolation ... ritual of a funeral," he said.
Back in April, Key was caught on camera singing in the hallway of the Livonia, Michigan, hospital where she works while dressed in dark-blue scrubs. The viral clip showed her serenading a group of health care workers, many of whom appeared meditative in the background.
"Honestly, I sing at work whether there’s good days or bad days," Key recently told The Detroit News. "But in those times, it was bad days."
She added she remembers seeing co-workers tear up while smiling after her impromptu performance.
"It had a very positive impact on my work family," she told the outlet.
Key said that the inauguration committee contacted her about two weeks ago about participating in the tribute, which included hundreds of lights being illuminated around the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. She told The Detroit News that she thought it was a "great opportunity in history."
She also appreciates the encouraging message behind the song, especially now. "We're all looking for hope, you know? Something to kind of get us out of this negative mindset," Key said.
"When I'm up there singing, I'm really singing on behalf of how every health care worker is feeling everywhere," she continued. "Basically, this song is basically for everyone who went through something this year and still going through something now."