44

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

The spirit and motivation of this song is found in Psalms 126 and 137. The historical references that stir this song might be the Exodus from Egypt (cf. Exodus 15), the return from Exile (see Nehemiah 9), or any time of testing and trial that is answered with God’s mercy.
In stanza 2, the “chastening rod” can be referenced in Hebrews 12:4-13.
When stanza 3 warns about the danger of becoming “drunk with the wine of this world”, we might think of Deuteronomy 8:10-20 and I John 2:15-17.

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

The journey of the Israelites through the wilderness is a picture of God’s children as pilgrims on a long and sometimes difficult journey. Yet, through everything God has a plan, which is revealed in the unfolding of the covenant. Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 33 testifies about a “story of God’s mighty acts in the unfolding of covenant history.” This unfolding of the covenant plan is a testimony, according to Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 18, of “the long road of redemption” for the Israelites and for God’s children living today.
44

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Tune Information

Name
ANTHEM
Key
G Major or modal
Meter
6.6.10.6.6.10.14.14.6.6.10

Recordings

44

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Hymn Story/Background

Originally written for a birthday anniversary of Abraham Lincoln by the African-American brothers James W. and J. Rosamond Johnson, this hymn became the theme song of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was much used in the Civil Rights movement and today is recognized as the anthem of African-Americans; many others have also adopted it.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Lyricist, lawyer, activist, diplomat and educator James Weldon Johnson (b. Jacksonville, Flordia, June 17, 1871; d. Wiscassat, Maine, June 26, 1938) was educated at Atlanta University where he received his Bachelor of Arts and Masters degrees, Johnson also passed the Florida bar (after his self-education).

In the early 1900’s, Johnson moved to New York began writing songs, collaborating with his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson. In a relatively short period of time, Johnson produced such hits as “Under the Bamboo Tree”, “Life Every Voice and Sing”, “Since You Went Away”, “The Maiden With the Dreamy Eyes”, “Nobody’s Lookin’ but the Owl and the Moon”, “Tell Me, Dusky Maiden”, “My Castle on the Nile”, “Congo Love Song”, “The Young Warrior”, “The Awakening”, “Two Eyes”, “Morning Moon and Night” and “The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground”.

Johnson also translated the Enrique Grandos opera Goyescas, which was produced by New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1915.

However, songwriting was a minor step in the extensive resumé and humanitarian life of James W. Johnson. Throughout his life he worked as a principal at the Stanton School; was the founder and editor of the first African American daily in the United States, the Daily American; he was appointed to the US consul for Puerto Cabello, Venezeula and later to Corinto, Nicaragua; worked as the assistant editor of NY Age; was a visiting professor of creative literature at Nashville’s Fisk University; was a trustee at Atlanta University; served as a director for the American Fund for Public Service; and for 14 years, was the National Secretary of the NAACP.

Johnson also wrote several books on African American life in the United States: Negro Americans, What Now?, Black Manhattan, God’s Trombones, St. Peter Relates an Incident, The Book of American Negro Poetry and an autobiography Along This Way

Composer Information

John Rosamund Johnson (b. Jacksonville, Flordia, August 11, 1873; d. New York, New York, November 11, 1954) was one of the more important figures in black music in the first part of the 20th century, usually in partnership with Bob Cole or with his brother James Weldon Johnson. While he is chiefly remembered today as the composer of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," he had a varied career as a pianist, songwriter, producer, soldier, singer, and actor.
 
J. Rosamond Johnson began playing the piano at age four, studied at the New England Conservatory and with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in London. He may have performed in 1896 with Isham Jones' Oriental America show in New York.
 
By the end of the 19th century, Johnson was teaching schoolchildren in the Jacksonville region. Around 1900 Johnson wrote and taught these schoolchildren "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing." Its popularity caused it to spread until it became the unofficial, then official, Black National Anthem.
 
Johnson moved to New York City in 1900 and plunged into its musical life. After contributing a song to Williams and Walker's Sons of Ham (1900), Johnson teamed up with Robert Cole with whom he began creating a vaudeville act and writing songs, occasionally assisted by his brother James Weldon Johnson. This partnership lasted until Cole's death in 1911. Besides crafting a sophisticated vaudeville style, Cole and Johnson produced two musicals, The Shoo-Fly Regiment (1907) and The Red Moon (1909). While these shows were successful, they lost money and Cole and Johnson returned to vaudeville performance.
 
Johnson's compositions skills were the strongpoints of his musicals and vaudeville performances. Musicologist Thomas Riis considers Johnson's harmonic language to be the richest of all the other black theater composers of his time save for Will Marion Cook. Shortly after Cole's death, Johnson performed as a pianist in "A Concert of Negro Music" the great Carnegie Hall concert of May 2, 1912.
 
When World War I broke out, Johnson received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 15th Regiment. After the war, he toured with his own groups, and even sang and played the part of a lawyer in the original production of Porgy and Bess in 1935.
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