As newlyweds Chelsey Mahlke and Darin Mahlke made their entrance, the bride was expecting to hear the floating bass line from Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — but the couple's first dance took an unexpected turn.
Instead, she heard a 1947 recording of her late grandmother Janience Bellanger singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a teenager.
A heartwarming TikTok video that captures the 33-year-old's utter surprise has garnered more than 2.7 million views.
“Honey, I’m sorry, there’s a better song,” Darin Mahlke, 43, says in the video, “and it’s sung by someone who would have loved to be here today. And in this way, she can.”
As the groom took hold of the microphone, Chelsey had “no idea what was going on," she told TODAY. As the wedding rhyme goes, for this surprise Darin needed “something borrowed.”
Years before Darin would even get down on one knee to propose, Chelsey shared the recording of her grandmother, and he never forgot, he told TODAY. It was in that moment that he knew it would be their wedding song.
The couple met at a Lifetime Fitness, when Chelsey worked the front desk and Darin was a member. He said that he would often schedule his workouts for when he knew Chelsey had a shift. The next few years, they drifted apart until their first date — watching Sunday football together — according to their wedding website. They began dating in 2014.
“One of the things I fell in love with about her is she’s sentimental and extremely family-oriented, she’s almost like the family historian and so she’s the one with all of the pictures and home videos,” said Darin, a manager for a medical orthopedic device company.
Ever the dutiful family historian, Chelsey transferred the recording to CD and gave them as gifts to her mother and aunts. With the help of the wedding planner and deejay, Darin was then able to “borrow” one of these CDs, make an MP3, and switch it for their first dance. He even pushed their first dance forward in the night for added effect.
Chelsey, a cattle rancher from Las Vegas, had an inseparable attachment with her grandmother who died in 2005 from ALS. And when the song played, she was overcome with emotion as her grandmother’s voice filled the wedding tent.
“I knew it had to be my grandma because that was what was most important to me and what I missed most that day,” Chelsey said. “As soon as I actually heard her voice, it was like everyone in that entire room except for Darin and my grandma disappeared because it was like she was there with us.”
Adding to her disbelief was the fact that Chelsey didn’t think Darin would ever remember when she first played him the song. “That was at least a couple of years before we even got engaged. It was longtime planning,” Chelsey said.
The moment was equally special for many of the wedding guests, who were either family or close friends who had known Bellanger in one way or another. In trying to create the perfect first dance for Chelsey, Darin said he forgot that so many of the people present knew of Chelsey’s bond with her grandmother.
Chelsey said that her grandmother was passionate about music and her rendition of Judy Garland’s smash-hit was actually performed in Bellanger’s childhood bedroom 70 years ago when she was a teenager.
Videographers and photographers captured the poignant wedding moment in March of 2018; however, it was not until 2020 that the video would resurface when Chelsey posted it to TikTok. The video went from 1,000 views to now millions, and while they received a positive outpouring from viewers — especially from brides having to restructure their wedding plans — one person might not be so happy about its virality.
“It’s so funny because my grandma would probably be mortified if she knew that people were listening to her sing because she was so humble about her music,” Chelsey said. “She was very picky about who she would even play the piano for because she just loved it for herself.”
Darin added that on home videos, Bellanger was more than camera shy, always seen dodging the camera’s gaze at any moment.
The angelic tune goes beyond even Chelsey’s grandmother. Darin explained that Bellanger’s own father loved the song, and in this way the legacy of the song remains strong in Chelsey’s family. The couple currently reside in Chelsey’s childhood home that has been in the family for 40 years.
As for the video, Darin believes it has gained traction since many people are home and looking for positive, reassuring content.
“It made a difference in our world, just like everyone else being on lockdown, life had come to a halt,” Darin said. “It wasn’t cartwheels and celebrations for the past few months. And reading through some of the comments, it was uplifting.”