Monday, July 7, 2008

Symbols of patriotism and fear of a black planet

Independence Day weekend is over. My husband's family and my family have all headed home. The fridge is stocked with plastic containers of potato salad and aluminum foil-wrapped ribs and chicken. The last few days have been so busy that I'm just getting around to thinking about this patriotism thing. To be honest, it's not July 4th that put love of country on my mind, it is Rene Marie. The relatively unknown jazz singer was asked to sing the national anthem at Denver city Council event. Instead of "The Star Spangled Banner" written by poet Francis Scott Key about the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, she sang the song that has come to be considered "the black national anthem," "Life Every Voice and Sing," penned by poet James Weldon Johnson in 1900 as a way for African Americans to voice their patriotism and hope for the future. Here is Rene Marie's performance:

Now, let me say, I plan lots of events as part of my job, and if I hire someone to sing one thing and she decides to sing another without my approval, I'm gonna be pissed. Somebody ain't gettin' paid. But folks aren't all up in arms about Rene Marie's professionalism. This isn't about a wayward vendor not delivering on promised services. Folks are acting like the woman stomped up on stage and torched the American flag while unleashing an invective filled rant against God, country, apple pie and Chevrolet. Comments to the Los Angeles Times article linked above go a little something like this:

Inappropriate all the way. The Star Spangled Banner or God Bless America or Oh
Beautiful ... these are all songs of inclusiveness. They speak to or for ALL americans. The Black National anthem by its very title is EXclusive. Also, the song does not celebrate the virtues of this country as much as it is a continual reminder of a past injustice. Lastly, it does not really celebrate this country. Note the last line that calls the listener to always be "true to their native land". Sounds like a veiled reference to some place else. I don't identify with the song. Sounds like it was sung with a root of bitterness.

They should have stopped this singer the minute she decided to sing her own thing. Enough of these changes are enough!!!! I for one am sick to death of those who feel the need to change EVERYTHING AMERICA holds dear. PLEASE feel free to leave the US if you prefer a country that better suits your needs. IF this is an early example of Obama winning the presidency, LORD HELP US. He sure won't get my vote, I assure you.

This is another punch to the majority of the the American public. Under the pretex of being an artist. It's like comparing the monalisa to the graffiti we all see out in the streets done by thughs not artists. I cannot believe that our elected officials allow the desecration of our national anthem. We vote this individuals to stand up for us as a majority and they always fail us... is this the change that we are going to be given by
the black community?

lets face it, everyone is a racist... but I personally (after decades of dedication towards local race relations in an effort out of love to unite) am becoming a bigger bigot every day. And growing up my parents never said one derogatory comment about any ethnicity or color and taught me to love all people. I hate the fact I feel the way I do anymore, but oh well... I will just try to do the same for my kids and let them make up their own mind. but I sure won't be voting democrat again this year, won't vote at all, and I hate myself because of the reason why, I wish black people would see that i am being sincere. Submitted by: used-to love blacks

Yes...a random singer in Denver has some correlation to an Obama presidency. Maybe that is why Barack Obama felt the need to weigh in while campaigning in Colorado:
"We only have one national anthem," Obama told the Rocky Mountain News on Thursday. "And so, if she was asked to sing the national anthem, she should have sung that. 'Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing' is a beautiful song, but we only have one national anthem."

My favorite candidate is well on the way to earning a STFU from me. Stop pandering to the patriotism police!)

I have yet to read a critique of Rene Marie’s performance that is not ahistorical, unreasoned and race biased.

For those who do note know, here are the lyrics to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
Lift ev'ry 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.
There is nothing anti-American about this song. There is little that should offend a true patriot. In fact, I can find little more patriotic than a people who have been historically enslaved and discriminated against proclaiming love of country despite all that. For those who complain that the song excludes other races, I point out that the song, which has become The Black National Anthem, never mentions blackness at all.

The big stink seems to not really be about the song at all, or the fact that Marie sang a different song than she was contracted to do. Again we learn that the Patriotism Police are more fond of symbols than true patriotism. Because that is what the anger seems to be about--a symbol of patriotism—in this case, not a flag pin, but a song. Well, symbols and racism, because the other thing that offends the sensibilities of Americans is that this inoffensive and uplifting poem set to music has come to be called The Black National Anthem. Suddenly, a song I learned in elementary school has become a symbol for some sort of black takeover in the form of Barack Obama. It is the symbol of a scary changing America. It is a symbol of the way that some people have not bought into the whitewashed view of history required by conservative patriotism—and that is awfully scary to some folks. (Interesting that one of the commenters above insists that the official national anthem is meant to be inclusive, even though it was written at a time of government sanctioned genocide of Native Americans, genocide and enslavement of black Americans and second-place status for all women.)

On her Web site, Marie defend herself thusly:

"I am an artist," she wrote. "If I wait until I am asked to express myself artistically, or if I must ask permission to do it, it would never get done. I knew that if I asked to do my version of the national anthem, the answer would be 'no.' "

Marie, 52, said that as a child raised in the segregated South, she sang both songs. But she grew to feel the sentiments of freedom expressed in the national anthem weren't a reality "for black folks living in a town with Jim Crow laws, where the flag often hung from buildings they could not enter," she wrote."

Nobody but black folks found comfort in 'Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing,' " penned by James Weldon Johnson and put to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, in about 1900 to commemorate President Lincoln's birthday. The hymn was sung at protest rallies during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s.

So Marie decided to meld the two anthems in what she describes as a love song to her country. She said she also rewrote the melodies to "America the Beautiful" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee," but kept the lyrics. She calls the three-part suite "Voice of My Beautiful Country."

That is good enough for me.

By the way, other great women have lifted their voices to sing "Life Ev'ry Voice and Sing." Purusing You Tube, these two versions struck me.

First, great opera singer and barrier breaker Leontyne Price:

...and this from R&B singer Kim Weston in front of a 100,000 at Wattstax--a festival at the Los Angeles Coliseum on August 20, 1972 organized by the Memphis Stax label to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Watts riots and black power, pride, culture, tradition and heritage struggle. The party and peacefulness was seen by some as "African Americans answer to Woodstock".(I love it! The 'fros! The Black Power fists!)


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