Time, on the poetry blog, to reflect on the close and loving relationship between song and poetry.
This song, which is not really an Easter song, still always fills my mind’s ear on Easter. James Weldon Johnson wrote the poem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. It was set to music composed by his brother, and became immensely popular in the black community, with some calling it the black national anthem. As an influential writer and thinker, and “with his talent for persuading people of differing ideologies to work together for a common goal, Johnson became the national organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1920.”
Luckily for us, PBS highlights the poem and song on their Black Culture Connection page. On this page, you can listen to a great video describing the conception of the poem, the development of the song, and then a sweet and delicate version of the song, performed by the Isaac Sisters with The Relatives. (There’s also a very trippy hip-hop version in another video,by Doughboy the Midwest Maestro and DJ Kool Rod over a video montage).
Because I am a hopeless poetry researcher, I also found a very interesting lesson on this poem and song created by ARTSEDGE, from the Kennedy Center. Maybe I’ll teach with this the next time I’ve got 5-8th graders.
All that being said, I think my memories of this song stem from singing it in high school, probably in a version that sounded very much like this. (Of course, we sang it not nearly as well, nor with an organ — but with as much gusto as we could muster. And then there’s the whole thing about white middle class kids singing this in the 1970s — but that’s for another to comment on — in fact, read the comments on YouTube. I just love the song and hope you enjoy it.)
And, in case you were hoping for the Hallelujah chorus, here you go! (Mom, this one’s for you!) Happy Easter everyone!