Last night to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., there was a musical special at the White House, which was very well done. But at the end of the show, President Obama came to the stage to introduce the song that everyone was to sing together, James Weldon Johnson's great hymn, and the song known as the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
The problem was a large number of the artists who were there clearly did not know the lyrics. Smokey Robinson was standing front and center, and at the beginning he was trying to pretend he knew the lyrics and mumbling words, but then gave up and just smiled and swayed. He was not the only one who clearly didn't know the words.
Either the people setting this up did not tell the artists that they were going to have to sing this, or assumed they would all know it, which is always the wrong assumption to make, and they messed up and made everyone look bad. Or the artists knew they were going to have to sing and simply didn't learn the lyrics, maybe assuming they would be able to hide and not be caught, and they were wrong. But either way it was not a good ending to an otherwise great show.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
Words by James Weldon Johnson and music by John Rosamond Johnson.
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.
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
thro’ the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from a gloomy past, till 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 hast 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.