The word “Coachella” invokes images of White people partying under the desert sun, but that didn’t stop Beyoncé from performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during her headlining set at the festival this year:
— Reese Waters (@reesewaters) April 16, 2018
The song’s connection to Black America’s resistance and resilience remains so strong after nearly 128 years that people still know it as the “Black National Anthem.” NPR explores the song’s history and continued relevance in a new audio segment and accompanying article that ran online today (August 16).
NPR traces the song back to its first public performance on February 12, 1900, by Black school children in Jacksonville, Florida. Writer James Weldon Johnson initially created the song as a poem, which his brother John Rosamond Johnson matched with a score, to honor President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The NAACP endorsed the song in 1905, and lyrics like “ring with the harmonies of liberty” spoke to a hope for Black freedom that the “Star-Spangled Banner” explicitly rejected.
“The National Anthem, ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ was missing something—was missing a radical history of inclusion, was missing an investment in radical visions of the future of equality, of parity,” University of California Los Angeles scholar Shana Redmond says in the segment. “ ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ became a counterpoint to those types of absences and elisions.”
Listen to the segment in full: