Vanessa Williams’ performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” alongside “The Star-Spangled Banner” at PBS’ annual “A Capitol Fourth” celebration has rubbed many on social media the wrong way, as the song is widely known as the “Black national anthem.”
As news of the pre-recorded performance hit Twitter on Saturday, people began to blast the upcoming special as “racist” and promoting “segregationism.” Specifically, many took the use of the phrase “Black national anthem” in The Hill’s coverage of the event to mean that the 4th of July will no longer represent all Americans.
For instance, Newsmax host Steve Cortes simply wrote, “We have one national anthem…” in response to The Hill’s tweet.
Florida-based politician Lavern Spicer took up the issue with Williams herself, tweeting, “Vanessa honey, a BLACK national anthem is something a Black African Country would have, not a country like America that exists for everyone.”
Williams had no comment about the critics’ reaction about the choice of songs when TheWrap reached out to her.
In an interview with The Associated Press published Friday, Williams said that she would be performing the song as a way to promote Juneteenth during the show, which is airing less than a month after President Biden signed the holiday commemorating when slaves were officially emancipated in the U.S. into law.
According to the NAACP, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written as a poem by organization leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900, and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, later wrote the music to accompany the words. Although the song has been a staple of Black culture, Beyoncé significantly increased its visibility when she sang it during her landmark Coachella performance in 2018.
Check out some of the other disapproving takes here.
As “Black national anthem” began trending, several people that are in support of Williams’ performance took the opportunity to educate the Twitterverse on the storied history of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and to take a few shots at those that were unaware of it.