If Lift Every Voice Has Got to Go, Then So Do These
One week after Super Bowl LVII has come and gone, there still seems to be significant social media chatter surrounding Sheryl Lee Ralph’s historic performance of Lift Every Voice and Sing, the masterpiece written by James Weldon Johnson and composed by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, in 1900. Despite some time passing, white folks’ voices are still rising in opposition to the so-called Black National Anthem being sung at the storied event, calling it “divisive,” “unnecessary,” and even racist—although there is no mention of race in the entire song, unlike the Star Spangled Banner (check the third stanza).
The overwhelming sentiment expressed by those who rejected Lift Every Voice is that “there should only be one anthem sung.” In my opinion, that means we’re going to have to throw away a whole lot of other songs too.
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Let’s start with “America” (My Country, Tis of Thee), the 1831 anthem by Samuel Francis Smith. “America” was the original National Anthem until it was replaced in 1931 by the Star Spangled Banner.
Another one we can toss: “America the Beautiful” a song pieced together in 1910 when music composed by Samuel A. Ward (published in 1892) was combined with a poem by Katharine Lee Bates (published in July of 1895.)
We would also need to throw out “God Bless America” by Irving Berlin, originally written in 1918, but not published (and revised) until 1938. Considered the nation’s second National anthem, this song actually started as one of Berlin’s discarded compositions before being revised as a peace song in opposition to conflict in Europe.
And let’s not forget “This Land is Your Land,”written by Woody Guthrie in 1940, in direct response to “God Bless America.” Guthrie felt “God Bless America” glossed over the real problems the country was facing and wrote “This Land is Your Land” as a reflection of the country during the time.
Last but not least, we’d have to dump “Stars and Stripes Forever,” considered the Official Marching Anthem, composed by John Phillip Sousa in 1897.
Each one of these anthems possesses a rich and many-decades-old (some even century’s old) tradition of being performed as a celebration of the Nation. Many have stood in place of the Star Spangled Banner, which was not adopted as America’s “National Anthem” until 1931.
Anyone implying the U.S. should only have one anthem in reaction to hearing Lift Every Voice and Sing is essentially saying all of these songs should be eliminated as well. If they are willing to throw out this legacy and all of the history these anthems hold just to avoid hearing the Black National Anthem, then they should really examine what that says about them.
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