Song of the Day (America Week): Kim Weston “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

James Weldon Johnson

Song of the Day (America Week): Kim Weston “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Lift Every Voice and Sing” was originally written as a poem in the year of 1900 by lawyer, educator, songwriter, and activist James Weldon Johnson. In 1905, it was set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson. The year of 1919 saw the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) adopt this song as the “Negro National Anthem”. It is now more popularly know and referred to  as the “Black National Anthem”. As a music student at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), I was required to learn this song on the piano and to study the song’s lyrics, meaning, history, importance and significance. I believe that this song should be shared, taught, sung, understood and celebrated in every school system throughout this country. I believe that if this song were at least as well known as our highly-flawed official National Anthem, that this would be one small, but profoundly meaningful step toward social justice and equality in this supposed “land of the free”.

Motown‘s Kim Weston performed this song in 1972 as part of the opening of the infamous Wattstax concert, that was held to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Watts riots of 1965. The Memphis, TN based Stax Records organized the concert to benefit the largely African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles. It was held at the massive Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and its guests, speakers and performers were a veritable Who’s Who of Civil Rights Activists and Soul, Gospel, R&B, Funk, and Jazz performers. *Trigger Warning* This video contains some graphic imagery that may be difficult for some viewers.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift every voice and sing, till 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 faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory 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, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our 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 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.

Kim Weston