Updated: 5 days ago
By Bob Deakin
I recently stumbled across one of the finest live Holiday performances I've ever seen. The song is “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and it was performed by Vince Gill, Amy Grant, and Michael McDonald with Chet Atkins on guitar.
It came out of nowhere from the Christmas with Vince Gill special in 1993. I’d never seen it or even heard the song, which was written by Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller in 1955 for the International Children’s Choir.
Jackson-Miller (Harlene Wood) had bit acting roles in old westerns and lived an initially tragic life. Following the failure of her first marriage, she made a suicide attempt but found peace in God instead. She later met songwriter Seymour “Sy” Miller, and they married soon after, leading to a deeply spiritual life for Jill.
Let There Be Peace on Earth
In 1955 they wrote “Let There Be Peace on Earth” together, and the song has been sung worldwide by children’s choirs in addition to recordings by Mahalia Jackson (check this out), Gladys Knight, Carlos Santana, and many others. It has become a Christmas song to many over the years, symbolizing all sorts of causes and celebrations.
What got me was the performance I mentioned at the beginning. Vince Gil opens singing lead and later joined by McDonald for the second verse, where he steals the show. I’ve been a McDonald fan for years with all the iterations with Steely Dan and the Doobies, but this one sticks out, seeing him in a spiritual setting.
Let There Be Chet Atkins on Earth
Chet Atkins takes the guitar solo for the third verse and plays a sweet melody on his hollow-body Gretsch guitar. So slow and so right. Notice him take a second to get going before settling in. Soft and heartfelt, as only the legendary country musician and producer could do. He nails it.
Gill and McDonald take the fourth verse with a duo, followed by a piano solo bridge in front of the 40-piece orchestra. Everything is seemingly perfect. You can tell by the looks on their faces.
Let There Be Michael McDonald on Earth
Amy Grant sings the next verse and nails it, looking stunning in the process.
They all join together for the next verse (number seven?) before the choir steps on stage, and they sing a couple more verses to end the show. Spectacular. I learned a new song and saw four familiar musicians play as I’d never seen.
I search for performances like this every Christmas season, but I thought I’d seen them all. Not the case. Merry Christmas to me.
If you need a new one for your Christmas video mix that doubles as a historic performance, especially with Atkins still on Earth, it's special find. Not a well-known performance, but a rare treat.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.