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“Lift Every Voice and Sing” – The Appropriate Anthem

Given the Blackness of most of the players, why not precede football and basketball games with the first verse of what used to be called the Negro National Anthem? The first verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is moving, inclusive, relatively sing-able, and doesn’t glorify bombs bursting through air. Any fans singing along could be calling for their team to win. It would have been perfect for the Cleveland Cavaliers last year. The Browns’ fans should start singing it right away.

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.

I thought I’d had an original idea until I checked with Wikipedia and learned, “In Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ the song is sung by the audience and students at Maya’s eighth grade graduation, after a white school official dashes the educational aspirations of her class.”

The online encyclopedia also notes, “‘Lift Every Voice and Sing'” was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900, by 500 school children at the segregated Stanton School. Its principal, James Weldon Johnson, wrote the words to introduce its honored guest Booker T. Washington. The poem was set to music soon after by Johnson’s brother John in 1905. In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dubbed it

‘The Negro National Anthem.'”

The second and third verses are specific to those whose forefathers were enslaved and who have faith in God.

YouTube has many renditions.  Ray Charles, the greatest piano player ever —backed by the Raelettes in pastel gospel gowns on the Dick Cavett show in 1972— modifies the lyric and jazzes it up. Most performers seem impelled to do something special with an anthem.  YouTube yielded two straightforward versions which happen to have graphics glorifying Martin Luther King and Barack Obama.

The ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ was first played at a baseball game in 1918, when US Americans were fighting in World War I and there was such patriotic fervor that Gene Debs, the antiwar Socialist who got a million votes for President in 1916, was imprisoned for sedition. The hideous ballad was performed during the seventh-inning stretch of a World Series game between the Cubs and the Red Sox in Chicago. Fans loved it so much that the team made it a regular feature and ticket sales went up. Source: Stephen Colbert. Herbert Hoover named it “the national anthem” in 1931.

The words “under God” were added to the pledge of allegiance in the 1950s when patriotic/religious fervor had been stirred by the Cold War against atheistic Russia. It broke the rhythm for those of us accustomed to “one nation indivisible.”

The singing of “God Bless America” during ball games was introduced in response to patriotic/religious fervor following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

The waves of fervor may subside a bit as the years ago by, but the nauseating rituals never get retired.

Thank you, Colin Kaepernick. May your injuries heal and may you get to lead the Niners till victory is won. (If Gabbert can’t do it against better teams than the Rams.)

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Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

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