The City of Denver asked noted jazz vocalist Rene Marie to sing the national anthem at the mayor’s “State of the City” address. Instead of singing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” she sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the song lovingly known in the U.S. as the “black national anthem.”
Here’s the video:
For a short story on the public outrage over her highly political and artistic expression, visit this link at the L.A. Times.
Afterthought: I’ve been reading a lot of commentaries on articles relating to Rene Marie’s bold political statement. Most of them are the expected: “she showed disrespect to her country “; “she’s being divisive”; “she should express her opinion in a more appropriate place”; “she was inappropriate”; for example. But I’ve also been surprised at the number of favorable or measured responses (at least in the comments to the above L.A. Times link). I know I shouldn’t be, but I am always surprised at the healthy level of critical thought in the nation at large (if you look in the right direction, that is).
If people stay focused on whether or not she was “appropriate” they are missing the point. Of course, she wasn’t appropriate! That was her point. That is the context and power behind her political statement. It was the context of the delivery of her statement and not the statement itself that is receiving the attention and consideration today.
Now, as to the content of that statement, when people express any sentiment that smacks of being “unpatriotic” others often rush to label them “American haters” and the like. It is also powerfully suggestive that her act of inappropriateness was an act of love in signing “Life Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” This is not a song of hate or even of anti-American sensibility. It is not a song of war or tribute to militaristic achievement. It is a song about people, dreams, ideals, and strength.
Not only could our society all use a little more of this kind of inappropriateness, but it is also a fitting kind of moment to consider on the day of this nation’s–or any nation’s–birth. What is the purpose of a nation if not the greater fulfillment of people’s needs as people, as communities? What if our service to one is at the expense of the other?