Lift Every Voice and Sing

“A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln's birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercise. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children.

Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it, they went off to other schools and sang it, they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today, the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used.

The lines of this song repay me in elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children."  - James Weldon Johnson, 1935

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning 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 till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning 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,
Till 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 hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast 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.

“the school children…kept singing it”

 

Beyoncé 2018

Beyoncé performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during her set at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April.  Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella

Beyoncé performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during her set at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April. Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella

NPR.org, August 16, 2018, Heard on Morning Edition by Claudette Lindsay-Habermann: Till Victory Is Won: The Staying Power Of 'Lift Every Voice And Sing.' "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is a song many African-Americans know from school or church. But if you didn't hear it there, you may know it from one of a few landmark performances. Read More

Beyoncé - Intro/Crazy In Love/Freedom/Lift Every Voice And Sing/Formation (Coachella Weekend 1). Beyoncé performing at Coachella on April 14, 2018. Listen to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” rendition at 9:00-min mark.


The Washington Post, April 16, 2018 by Samantha Schmidt: ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’: The story behind the ‘black national anthem’ that Beyoncé sang. In 1899, a young poet and school principal named James Weldon Johnson was asked to address a crowd in Jacksonville, Fla., for the coming anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Just two decades had passed since the Reconstruction era, and lynchings were on the rise in the segregated South. Instead of preparing an ordinary speech, Johnson decided to write a poem. He began with a simple but powerful line, a call to action: “Lift ev’ry voice and sing.” Read More

 

Mormon Tabernacle Choir 2018

On May 20, 2018, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attended the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcast. Members of the National Board of Directors of the NAACP and the NAACP Foundation were in Salt Lake City for their board meetings, which were held in Salt Lake City for the first time.
 

Kennedy Center 2011

This performance of Lift Every Voice and Sing by the HBCU 105 Voice Choir was breathtaking! It was performed as the finale number of their annual conference performance in Washington, DC on September 18, 2011 at the JF Kennedy Center.
 

Howard University 2010

The Howard Gospel Choir of Howard University sings "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (The Black National Anthem) at Jerusalemskirken (Church of Jerusalem) in Copenhagen, Denmark [Europe] as a part of our Northern Scandinavian Tour in February 2010.
 

Black History Month 1985

Note: Click on “Watch this video on YouTube.” And, it’s worth it.

In 1985 Miller High Life asked me to come up with a "meaningful" project for Black History Month. I decided to arrange and record a celebratory contemporary version of "Lift Every Voice and Sing". I called good friends Al Green and Deniece Williams who agreed to sing the duet, backed by Patti Austin, Roberta Flack, Melba Moore and myself.
 

Ray Charles 1972

LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING by Ray Charles from THE DICK CAVETT SHOW. September 18, 1972. The Raelettes are: Vernita Moss, Susaye Green, Mable John, Dorothy Berry, & Estella Yarbrough.

 

New York World’s Fair 1939

A souvenir version of Savage's 1939 sculpture The Harp, which was inspired by "Lift Every Voice and Sing."  1939 WORLD'S FAIR COMMITTEE

A souvenir version of Savage's 1939 sculpture The Harp, which was inspired by "Lift Every Voice and Sing." 1939 WORLD'S FAIR COMMITTEE

KRCU Public Radio of Southeast Missouri, July 15, 2019 by Susan Stamberg: Sculptor Augusta Savage Said Her Legacy Was The Work Of Her Students. Throughout the 1930s, Savage sculpted portrait busts of African American leaders, including NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the lyrics of the anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing." When the 1939 New York World's Fair commissioned Savage to make a sculpture she produced a monumental work called Lift Every Voice and Sing. World's Fair officials changed the name to The Harp. "The strings of the harp are formed by the folds of choir robes worn by 12 African American singers," Ikemoto explains. "Then, the soundboard of the harp is formed by the hand of God." The singers, then, become instruments of God. Five million visitors saw The Harp and it became one of the Fair's most photographed objects — you can see photos of it here. Sixteen feet high, made of painted plaster, Ikemoto says it was destroyed — smashed by clean-up bulldozers — at the end of the fair. Read More

Carl Van Vechten’s photograph of Augusta Savage’s sculpture “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Carl Van Vechten’s photograph of Augusta Savage’s sculpture “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, March 27, 2008, Life Every Voice and Sing: Novelist, poet, lawyer, early civil rights activist and educator, Johnson was a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a pivotal period of intellectual, political and cultural foment, from which much of the distinctly African-American art, literature and music of the 20th century dates. Johnson grew up in Florida, the son of a waiter and the first female black teacher in that state. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature at Atlanta University, and was the first African American to pass the bar in the state of Florida. In 1906 he became the American consul in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and in 1909, consul in Corinto, Nicaragua. In 1920, he was appointed executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His works include: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1920), The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), God’s Trombones (1927) and Along This Way (1933). Johnson wrote the words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in 1900 to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954). Read More

James Weldon Johnson (center) with friend Bob Cole (left) and brother Rosamond (right) THE JAXSON

James Weldon Johnson (center) with friend Bob Cole (left) and brother Rosamond (right) THE JAXSON

The Jaxson On WJCT, August 8, 2008 by Bill Delaney: The Jaxson: James Weldon Johnson Deserves To Be Celebrated. Johnson was born in Jacksonville in 1871 during the Reconstruction period when the federal government worked to protect the rights of newly freed African-Americans across the South. His mother was Bahamian immigrant Helen Louise Dille, and his father was James Johnson, the head waiter at the St. James Hotel. His brother was noted musician John Rosamond Johnson. Johnson grew up in the town of LaVilla, later annexed by Jacksonville. His childhood experience of the city was of a comparatively tolerant place where African-Americans could advance and prosper. Johnson attended Atlanta University at the age of 16 and then returned to Jacksonville where he served in various high-status positions. In 1895 he founded the Daily American, Florida’s first African-American-oriented newspaper. In 1897 he was admitted to the Florida Bar, becoming the first black Floridian to pass the Bar since Reconstruction ended. He also served as principal of Stanton School, where he spearheaded the effort to add a high school, the first in the state to serve African-Americans. Johnson first achieved wide literary notice in 1899 when he penned the poem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which his brother Rosamond put to music. Originally sung at a local celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, the song spread far beyond Jacksonville and by 1929 had been dubbed the “Negro National Anthem.” Many black Americans still think of it as the Black National Anthem today. Read More