As soon as the first few words of the Disney tune came out of the singer’s mouth and boomed through the church speakers, Rufus Gifford knew he had to take out his iPhone to record a video of the performance.
Gifford, a former congressional candidate and US ambassador to Denmark under the Obama administration, had just delivered a speech as a special guest at the First Parish Church of Fitchburg, in celebration of Pride Month last Sunday.
When the service ended, attendees filtered into a separate room of the church to enjoy some light entertainment during a luncheon. That’s when 24-year-old Lavender Darcangelo, a blind woman on the autism spectrum and daughter of the church’s minister, Wil Darcangelo, who had invited Gifford to speak that day, took the stage.
“She gets on stage and she says, ‘Hi, I’m Lavender, I’m blind and autistic and I want to sing a song in honor of Pride Month,’ ” said Gifford, who had never met Lavender. “She opens her mouth and starts singing and immediately I grabbed my phone because I can tell she is incredibly talented from the moment she starts — but it just gets better and better. I’m just sort of astounded.”
The internet felt the same way. Shortly after Lavender belted out “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid,” Gifford shared the video of her singing at the church event to social media. Ever since, the young vocalist from Fitchburg has been fielding interviews with television stations and websites from across the country, and receiving praise from around the world.
“I’m just beside myself, but in a joyful way,” Lavender told the Globe in a telephone interview Thursday. “I have had daydreams — rather, I daydream a lot of being on TV and CD, and to have all of these experiences that were once in my head come to reality is a lot to take in.”
While her performance surprised Gifford, some church attendees, and those who have watched the video, Lavender’s singing is not a new part of her life.
Lavender, who has been blind since birth, has been singing since the age of 3 — even before she was verbal, Wil Darcangelo said.
“She’s been training to be a famous singer for a number of years,” he said, “with the hope of setting an example for the disabled community and empowering them to recognize their potential.”
Wil, Lavender’s adoptive father, first met her in 2010, when she was a student at Fitchburg High School. He was a substitute teacher at the time and had started an after-school program for kids called the Tribe Music Mentorship Project, which Lavender was eager to join.
“My aide at the time knew who [Wil] was, and so she was guiding me to lunch and we saw him and she introduced us,” Lavender said. “I said to Wil . . . ‘I would really like to join because I’m autistic and have perfect pitch.’ ”
Wil said Lavender was exactly the kind of student he was trying to serve in that program.
“As a student at Fitchburg back in the 1980s, I needed opportunities for my own performing arts professionalism to develop, and there are so few opportunities,” said Wil, who has been coaching Lavender vocally for years. “I wanted to create [a program] that would give those opportunities to these kids that they wouldn’t normally get otherwise.”
At 19, when Lavender left her biological family because life had become challenging at home, she turned to Wil and his husband, Jamie.
Eventually, in June 2015, she moved in with the couple, Wil said. The following year, on Father’s Day, Lavender asked them if they would adopt her. And in August 2017, it became official, he said.
Wil said this has been an exciting week for the entire family. And though he’s not surprised that his daughter’s singing is resonating with people, he’s certainly pleased with the recognition that she’s been receiving.
“This is all she’s ever wanted,” he said. “She wants to be an advocate for people with multiple disabilities who have a hard time feeling like they fit into any one world,” which is one of the reasons she chose to sing the song from “The Little Mermaid.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the video Gifford took of Lavender’s performance had been viewed more than 680,000 times on Twitter, and it showed no signs of slowing down.
Lavender, who said representatives from “America’s Got Talent” have reached out to her, hopes that as the video continues to rack up views, it will inspire people who watch it.
“I feel like I’ve filled the purpose of why I’m here,” she said. “Music speaks volumes in ways that words do not.”
A young woman comes on stage today in Fitchburg. Introduces herself as Lavender. Tells us that she blind and autistic and wants to sing a song in honor of LGBT Pride.— Rufus Gifford (@rufusgifford) June 23, 2019
She sings one of my favorite songs and brings us tears. pic.twitter.com/cYWJNxJDNY
Here?s my video of the same performance. It includes the applause you asked for. Thanks for wanting to hear that part. I thought it was great too. pic.twitter.com/n1KFOsvROs— Wil Darcangelo (@wildarcangelo) June 26, 2019