“Lift Every Voice and Sing” Supported By Some To Become New National Anthem

On November 22, composer William Bolcom wrote the below letter to the editor of the New York Times. We do not know if it was, or will be, published by them, but we do know that is has been circulated as a kind a de facto blog post for the composer (who does not maintain a blog). It was published on Tuesday by AfriClassical.

For many years I’ve felt “Lift Every Voice and Sing” would be much better as our national anthem than “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Brent Staples’ column [“Colin Kaepernick and the Legacy of the Negro National Anthem”] was a joy to read, as I learned I’m not alone in feeling its superiority — for one thing “Lift Every Voice,” aside from its inspiring text, is far more singable than our repurposed drinking song from an almost-forgotten war — but the hymn’s principal virtue is that it nourishes the soul, where in my opinion “The Star-Spangled Banner”‘s tune does not.

This summer my new sextet quoted a short passage of “Lift Every Voice,” meant as a balm against the current worldwide and growing ugliness found just about everywhere right now. Audience members have told me how even a few bars of the tune had warmed them; most had not heard it before.

A successful national anthem has renewing power in word and note; a great anthem can sometimes transcend nations. Right now we need to be resistant, resolute, and courageous in our arts and affairs, and over time this is exhausting. We need the spiritual food found in “Lift Every Voice” to restore us, and I hereby humbly ask African-Americans to be willing to release that eloquent hymn to all Americans for our souls’ health, while realizing that it is a lot to ask from those who have already sacrificed so much.

William Bolcom

Another Marks composer, Zanaida Robles, offered an equally passionate call to attention (passion which we share, as its publisher for a century) concerning Lift Every Voice and Sing on her blog. Her arrangement of it was performed by th L.A. Master Chorale last April. She recently wrote:

I know I’ve said this before: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a hymn that connects us to our roots, honors the present, and points toward the future. The poetry is epic and sophisticated. It speaks to our common struggle with brutality and injustice. And mostly, it speaks to the value of EVERY collective human voice that has ever been imprisoned, demoralized, persecuted, and/or murdered. Anyone and everyone can and should sing this song. But for me, and for many Black Americans, this song is our pride and joy. It means more than words can say for this song to be sung to life by our prestigious local music institutions, especially when Black Americans take the lead.

December 14, 2017