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Uriah J. Fields

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by Uriah J. Fields
Monday, March 02, 2009
Rated "G" by the Author.
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Singers do not have the liberty to personalize "Lift Every Voice and Sing" anymore than they have a right to personalize "The Star Sangled Banner." There are works that, for art or tradition, are above personal interpretation. A failure to embrace this value is to be profane.


"Lift Every Voice and Sing" is a song that for more than a century has had tremendous signifiance for African Americans.

James Weldon Johnson's poem was first publicly performed by schoolchilden as part of a celebation of President Lincoln's birthday on February 12, 1900. He intended this inspirational poem to serve as a protest against the humiliating conditions of Jim Crow and the wave of lynchings that were sweepig across America. In 1905, his brother J. Rosamond Johnson set to music, in sixth-eight time, his brother's lyrics. They had no idea how important their creations would be to future generations of African Americans.

The significance of this song is waning mainly because contemporary verison of this song are being used rather than the original music, which added to the meaning of the lyrics. Many current singers are making it a jazz, blues, rap or something-else kind of song, but not the song with reverence that it has been traditionally.

This song, also known as "The African American National Anthem," means a lot to many African Americans. It is sung at many African American events. Recently, I attended a "Martin Luther King, Jr., National Holiday celebration and the 100th Anniversary of the NAACP. At both events "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was sung. You may recall that Rev. Jospeh Lowery quoted the third stanza of this song at the beginning of his benediction at the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20.

White people who are often in audiences when this song is sung also need to know that, like the "Star Spangled Banner," "Lift Every Voice and Sing" must not be rendered in a way that reduces its value.

Copyright 2009 by Uriah J. Fields
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