More than a century after “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was adopted as the “Black national anthem,” Andra Day will perform it to christen Super Bowl LVIII.
“Peace and Blessings!!! Performing the Anthem at the Super Bowl yall!” Day, 39, tweeted last month. Day, who won a Golden Globe for her performance as the titular character in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, said she was feeling “grateful,” at this opportunity. “Thank You God.”
That same day, she told Entertainment Tonight that she got the call in November 2023. “I was so nervous but very, very excited. Grateful. And also, just an honor. It’s an honor to be singing the Black national anthem,” she said.
Five years ago, Beyoncé famously included “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in her now-landmark “Homecoming” set at Coachella and the song was first included ahead of the big game in 2021. But if you aren’t familiar with the track, keep reading ahead of the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 11:
Who Wrote ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing?’
James Weldon Johnson was a writer, lawyer, educator, professor and civil rights leader in his lifetime. James penned the song — first as a poem — in 1899 as the principal of the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida, per CNN.
His brother, musician and composer John Rosamond Johnson, set the words to music. John trained at the New England Conservatory of Music and composed and performed stage musicals and operettas.
His part of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” reflects that education and experience. The composition was done in A flat major, as CNN notes it’s a “popular expressive key seen a lot in spirituals and gospel music.” The melody is also a “word painting,” with the music matching the lyrics. “Lift every voice and sing” is sung on an ascending line, as is “Let all creation rise.” The music also adopts a Minor key when detailing the darker lyrical material.
When Did It Become the ‘Black National Anthem?’
Two events are credited to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” becoming “the Black national anthem.” In 1905, the song earned the endorsement of noted educator, author and community leader Booker T. Washington. In 1919, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) adopted it as the official “national anthem” of its people.
“It spoke to the history of the dark journey of African-Americans,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson told NPR in 2018, “and for that matter, many Africans in the diaspora [who] struggled through to get to a place of hope.”
When Did ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ Become Part of the Super Bowl?
The first performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” ahead of the Super Bowl took place in 2021. Alicia Keys performed the song in a pre-recorded segment that aired ahead of Super Bowl LV, the championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“As a child attending Jefferson Elementary School in the Trenton, NJ, public school system, the song was part of our morning ritual. We sang along with it right before placing our hands over our hearts and pledging allegiance to the American flag,” Troy Vincent, former NFL player and the NFL’s Executive Vice President of football operations, said in a statement. “It has encouraged generations of Black people that God will lead us to the promises of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. It’s as pertinent in today’s environment as it was when it was written.”
The inclusion was part of the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative following a rise in civil unrest over police brutality and the authorities’ unfettered killing of Black and other people of color.
At the time, the league had been under fire for the treatment of Colin Kaepernick who refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” in protest of how people of color are treated by police. With the public protesting over how “Black Lives Matter,” the NFL made the change part of its efforts to be more inclusive.
In 2021, Mary Mary performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” In 2022, the multi-talented Sheryl Lee Ralph performed the song.