By Fred Gardner September 20, 2020

Before the first games of the season, National Football League football players stood for Alicia Keys singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  Alicia Keys is serious as the movement and spiritual as the song and stylish beyond words.  “A revolutionary hat and a high-necked dress,” said the Chief of the Fashion Police, approvingly.  “A soldier girl’s outfit. The look of the Black Panther women in Oakland, 1966.”

A call to make “Lift Every Voice” our national anthem has run at the top of this site since 2016. Victory has not yet been won, so we’re still calling:

Given that most of the players are Black, why not precede football and basketball games with “Lift Every Voice and Sing?” The first verse is moving, inclusive, relatively sing-able, and doesn’t glorify bombs bursting through air. Fans singing along would be supporting their team “till victory.”

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning 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 till victory is won.

“‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’” was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of Abraham 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 set to music soon after by Johnson’s brother John in 1905. In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dubbed it “The Negro National Anthem.” (Thanks, Wikipedia)

YouTube has many renditions of “Lift Every Voice…”   Many performers do something special with it. Ray Charles, the greatest piano player ever —backed by the Raelettes in pastel gospel gowns on the Dick Cavett show in 1972— modifies the words and jazzes it up, dropping the second verse. An abbreviated instrumental version is the theme music for W. Kaumu Bell’s great show on CNN, “The United Shades of America.”

The ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ was first played during the seventh-inning stretch of a 1918 World Series game between the Cubs and the Red Sox in Chicago. US Americans were fighting in World War I and there was such patriotic fervor that Gene Debs, the antiwar Socialist who had gotten a million votes for President two years earlier, was imprisoned for sedition. Fans loved the hideous ballad so much that the team made it a regular feature and ticket sales went up. Herbert Hoover designated it “the national anthem” in 1931.

The words “under God” were added to the pledge of allegiance in the 1950s when patriotic/religious fervor had been whipped up by the Cold War against atheistic Communism. “Under God”  broke the rhythm for those of us accustomed to saying “…onenationindivisiblewithlibertyandjusticeforall.”

The singing of “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch at baseball games was introduced in response to patriotic/religious fervor following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

The waves of fervor may subside a bit as the years ago by, but the pseudo-patriotic rituals go on forever.