How a 'Happy' Video in Detroit Went Viral

Students at the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences produced a video of a rehearsal singing Pharrell Williams’s hit song — and the phones haven’t stopped ringing.

Posted: 03/18/2014 02:55 PM EDT

It is difficult to watch the group of children at the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences singing Pharrell Williams’s Academy Award-nominated song “Happy” without feeling, well, happy.

That appears to be the conclusion of many Americans who have watched the video online of a group of students from the inner-city Detroit charter school. Within 24 hours of it going online Monday night, the school was inundated with calls, requests to appear on various programs and a host of congratulatory messages.

“It has been a crazy and amazing day here,” said Maurice Morton, the chief executive of the well-known elementary school, in an interview with BET.com. “We’ve been called by media all over the country. It’s been pretty exciting.”

Morton said that the school’s teachers and parents — and indeed the city — take great pride in the video and the response to it because it reflects the fact that Detroit is a place with highly talented youth.

“Despite the headlines that people read about Detroit, we have extremely talented kids here,” said Morton, a lawyer and former prosecutor in Wayne County, Michigan, and a candidate for office in Detroit.

“This is exciting for us because people are recognizing their talent and the fact that their educational experience here is bringing out the best in them,” Morton said. “We use our arts program to get them interested and inspired about school.”

The school has become well known for its famous choir, which has performed at a number of national venues, from the halftime show of Monday Night Football to the Today show on NBC. The school also prides itself as a place where students use the latest in technology.

Nonetheless, Morton says, the students at the school still encounter all the problems that face any school seeking to educate children in Michigan’s largest city, a place that has been besieged with high unemployment and poverty rates. But he explained that the school has had a great deal of success because its leaders and administrators can tailor their work to meet the needs of students without having to answer to a huge school-district bureaucracy.

The video came about as a result of a parent taping a rehearsal of the young people in the school’s library. The parent placed the video on YouTube, which helped launch the performance into international acclaim.

“It was literally a practice and rehearsal tape that went viral,” Morton said. “They were just having fun. Last night we got an email that it was on the Huffington Post and that it went to 70,000 views overnight. Then the calls started coming in from all over the country. It’s been amazing. And I don’t think it’s going to stop any time soon.”

Watch the video here.

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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

(Photo: Courtesy of the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences)

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