“The Black National Anthem” or “Lift Every Voice and Sing”
Background and Summary
"Lift Every Voice and Sing," also known as "The Negro National Anthem," was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and then set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, in 1900.
Life Every Voice and Sing was first performed in public in Jacksonville, Fla., as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's commemorative birthday celebration on February 12, 1900. The anthem was performed by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.
Singing this song quickly became a means by which Blacks could demonstrate their patriotism and hope for the future of America. In calling for earth and heaven to "ring with the harmonies of Liberty," Black people subtly spoke out against racism and Jim Crow laws, especially with the rise in the number of lynchings at the turn of the century. In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted the song, calling it the Negro national anthem. By the 1920s, copies of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" could be found in Black churches across the country and were often pasted right into the hymnals.
A Song of Inspiration
In 1939, renowned artist Augusta Savage received a commission from the World's Fair to create a 16-foot plaster sculpture and she called it, Lift Every Voice and Sing. With no funds to preserve the sculpture or cast it in bronze, the figure was destroyed by bulldozers at the close of the fair.
Throughout and following the Civil Rights Movement, the song experienced a rebirth. By the 1970s the anthem was often sung in succession with “The Star Spangled Banner” at public events and performances across the United States at which there was a significant Black population in attendance.
In 1990, singer Melba Moore released a modern rendition of the song, which she recorded along with R&B artists such as, Anita Baker, Stephanie Mills, Dionne Warwick and Bobby Brown, as well as gospel artists BeBe and CeCe Winans, Take 6 and The Clark Sisters. Partly due to the success of this recording, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was entered into the Congressional Record as the official African American National Hymn. The first verse is the most commonly heard of the lyrics.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” Lyrics:
Lift every voice and sing, 'til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past, 'til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might, Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.
Sources: Wikipedia.org; Bearden, Romare and Henderson, Harry. A History of African-American Artists, From 1792 to the Present, pp. 168-180, Pantheon Books, Random House, 1993.
Posted By: Admin Administrator
Tuesday, January 29th 2008 at 3:27PM
You can also
here to view all posts by this author...