Suntree songwriter hopes recording stirs soul of nation

JoAnna O'Keefe hopes her song "America at the Crossroads" can help the country.

 

If ever a song can bring the nation together, JoAnna O’Keefe’s “America at the Crossroads” might do the trick.

The Suntree poet’s earnest plea for unity has been recorded by American country music artist Michael Peterson, whose song, “From Here to Eternity,” earned the No. 1 spot in Billboard’s Top 40 Hot Country Singles and Tracks. “America at the Crossroads” is available through Amazon, Apple Music and Spotify.

You could say the seeds for the song were sown when 4-year-old O’Keefe witnessed the flag-draped coffin of her father’s cousin, killed at the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II. They were subsequently nurtured during the time O’Keefe and husband Jack spent in the 1740s home they once owned in New Hampshire.

“I often thought about all the patriots who had passed through there,” she said.

A graduate of Syracuse University in New York, O’Keefe brings to her work the contemplative experience she honed studying at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Benedictine Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado and the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque.

The death of her father and the murder of a close friend propelled O’Keefe to seek refuge in spiritual poetry, an effort that eventually evolved into song. Her poem, “Come to the Garden,” was read at the 51st annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

The author of five books of poetry, O’Keefe is a 2016 recipient of the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation and of the 2018 President’s Pen Woman Award for Distinguished Achievement in Poetry.

When former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s wife, Grace, mentioned to O’Keefe that divisiveness hobbled government, O’Keefe mustered her stored memories into “America at the Crossroads.”

The late Tony Smith, Lee Greenwood’s principal music director for several years, helped O’Keefe release the song as a single in 2014. Dedicated to the people of America, the song premiered at the Brevard Symphony Orchestra’s annual Fourth of July concert that year.

The Michael Peterson version was released worldwide Nov. 19, and a video was released via YouTube in December. The song is being distributed by ONErpm Media. A video of O’Keefe discussing the birth of the song is also available on YouTube.

For O’Keefe, the timing could not be more perfect for her labor of love to help heal a troubled nation.

“It has been said that a song can stir the soul of a nation,” she said.