Craig Morgan (shown here) woke at 4:30 one morning, with a song forming in his head.
That happens often; he keeps a notepad near his bed. But this was different, he recalled: “I don’t ever remember getting up and picking up the guitar.”
In less than an hour, he had finished “The Father, My Son and the Holy Ghost.” That’s the song he’ll do on the Capitol lawn for the “National Memorial Day Concert,” at 8 p.m. Sunday (Memorial Day eve) on PBS, with most stations repeating it at 9:30.
The song isn’t completely related to Memorial Day; his son died in a lake accident, not in combat.
But Morgan understands war losses; he was in the Army for a decade. And his song fits anyone who has lost someone. “It never goes away,” he said. “You don’t see him, but he’s always there.”
Now that will be part of an emotional night – the first live Memorial Day concert in three years. Performing outdoors will be some of Broadway’s best voices – Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lea Salonga, Norm Lewis – plus old-time/blues star Rhiannon Giddonsand Pia Toscano, who showed vocal power on “American Idol,” a decade ago.
There will also be brief speeches – including a tribute to Gen. Colin Powell, who died last October at 84 – plus military bands and choruses… and Morgan, who fits any military-setting.
Growing up in a Tennessee town of 2,700, he said by phone, “I knew I was going to do music some day, but I wasn’t sure how. Blake (Shelton) said he used to practice as a kid, singing into a hairbrush. But I wasn’t that guy.”
Instead, he was an EMT and then an Army Airborne soldier who brought his guitar along. “Especially when I was in Panama, guys would say, ‘Dude, you should do that for a living.’ I’d think, ‘Yeah, but what would you say if I wasn’t your sergeant?’”
After a decade in active duty, he was in the reserves, held various jobs (construction, security, Wal-mart), made some inroads as a songwriter and landed a record deal. His songs have ranged from the hauntingly emotional “Almost Home” to the sweet-spirited “That’s What I Love About Sunday” and the party-friendly “Bonfire” and “Redneck Yacht Club.”
This was a country star with a steady life – a stable marriage (now 32 years) and five children. Then his son, 19, died while inner-tubing on a lake.
The grief was instant and sustained, Morgan said; the song emerged three years later, and stays with him. “I do the song almost every night; some nights, I’m in hyper-emotion when I do it.”
Morgan’s old and new lives often coincide. He does frequent concerts for military groups; and this year, he was one of the nine celebrities that CBS’ “Beyond the Edge” dumped into the Panama jungle … the same place he used to be an Army forward observer.
“Without Crig Morgan, none of us would be alive by now,” model Paulina Porizkova said in a Television Critics Association video session. “He was definitely the MVP ….He knew how to make fire in the rain. He knew how to do the roofs. He knew how to collect food.”
He wasn’t preachy, actress Jodie Sweetin said. “He walked all of us through it …. It was a team effort.”
Eventually, Alaina left with an injury and four others quit, starting with former basketball player Metta World Peace. “I really was surprised when Metta dropped out so soon,” Morgan said by phone, “but he said he’d accomplished what he’d wanted to.”
Colton Underwood was considered the champion (via contests along the way); the only others to reach the finish were football’s Ray Lewis and Mike Singletary, plus Morgan, who seemed to enjoy himself. “I could have stayed there forever,” he said.
Or not. There are things to do back home, including visiting the Capitol and sin