Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lifting Every Voice

On February 12 in Black History...

In 1900, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (now also known as "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing") was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of 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 later set to music by Johnson's brother John in 1905.

I was first introduced to Lift Every Voice when I began singing in the Love Community Choir founded by Ms. Laura Wall in Winston-Salem, NC.  Ms. Wall started this choir of about 50 local middle school and high school kids and performed at holiday and other celebrations at local churches and other venues.  Her goal was introduce kids to proper singing and choral music beyond just contemporary gospel. I remember she once took us all to see the Harlem Boys Choir when they performed at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Each rehearsal began with vocal exercises and at the culmination of every performance, the choir sang ALL THREE VERSES of Lift of Every Voice and Sing.  As I started high school, I was singing in my church youth choir, honors chorus and our high school gospel choir in addition to the Love Community Choir.  As a teenager, I felt that singing those boring spirituals in our uniform white blouses with red vests and navy blue skirts and slacks, with the Love Community Choir was just too childish for me anymore.  My mom made us stay in it until I was in the tenth grade.  As an adult, I look back and am thankful of my time singing with the Love Community Choir.  Ms. Wall passed away sometime around 1992 or so, but I am thankful for her sacrificing her time to expand our music and cultural education for us kids to another fascet of our culture and making us appreciate it in so many ways.  To this day, I can pretty muich recite all three verses as I could back then...the difference is that I know and appreciate what it means to our culture much more.

Lift Every Voice and Sing
By James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing,
'Til 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 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 'til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning 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,
'Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright 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 has 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.

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