“Lift Every Voice and Sing” Is the Official Black National Anthem — a Look at Its History

Elizabeth Randolph - Author

Feb. 9 2024, Updated 11:59 a.m. ET

 Andra Day speaks onstage during the Super Bowl LVIII Pregame & Apple Music Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show Press Conference at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on February 08, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
Source: Getty Images

Andra Day will perform "Life Every Voice and Sing" for Super Bowl LVIII

For centuries, music has helped bond communities during joyous and challenging times. One song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” has been a revered part of Black culture in times of protest, celebration, and even legislation. The selection became the official Black National Anthem in the 1900s, and many have upheld its title.

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The impact of “Lift Every Voice and Sing" spread worldwide, and many artists, from the late great Mahalia Jackson, to Beyoncé, to Alicia Keys, to Sheryl Lee Ralph, performed the song at separate events. Now, Grammy winner Andra Day will perform it at Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024.

Ahead of Andra’s much-anticipated “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performance, let’s dive into the song’s history of how it became the Black National Anthem.

Sheryl Lee Ralph performs Lift Every Voice and Sing prior to Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium on February 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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'Abbott Elementary' star Sheryl Lee Ralph performing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at Super Bowl LVII in 2023

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“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first considered the official NAACP song.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was created by poet, Broadway composer, and attorney James Weldon Johnson in 1900, per WGN. Initially, James wrote the song as a poem amid segregation, lynching, and other anti-Black attacks.

“Lift every voice and sing, ’til earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of Liberty,” the lyrics begin, continuing with, “Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

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James’s poem was later developed into a song by his brother, Rosamond. The brothers brought together a choir of 500 children to perform it at the segregated school where James worked as a principal, Stanton School, in Jacksonville, Fla.

The song’s impact became more apparent during the civil rights movement and the beginning of the National Association of Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

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In 1917, the NAACP made “Lift Every Voice and Sing” its official song and began referring to it as the “Negro National Anthem,” which was later changed to the Black National Anthem. The NAACP’s website said the song was also “prominently used as a rallying cry during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.”

A photo of protestors in Birmingham, Ala., in the 1950s.
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A photo of protestors in Birmingham, Ala., in the 1950s

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Andra Day said it's an "honor" to perform "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at Super Bowl LVIII.

Over the years, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has made its rounds in mainstream media. In 2019, Amanda Seales had her crowd sing along to the song at her HBO standup special, I Be Knowin'. The hymn is also referenced in Black pop culture often.

In 2021, Alicia Keys sang the song in a pre-recorded clip for Super Bowl LV. The following year, Mary Mary sang the song outside of the stadium for Super Bowl LVI. And in 2023, Sheryl Lee Ralph's performance of the song during Super Bowl LVII made history, as it was the first time the song had been sung within the stadium.

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Now, singer-songwriter and actress Andra Day will follow in her peers’ footsteps by performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during football’s biggest night in 2024.

FEBRUARY 03: Andra Day attends the Pre-GRAMMY Gala & GRAMMY Salute to Industry Icons Honoring Jon Platt at The Beverly Hilton on February 03, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)
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Andra Day at a pre-Grammy gala on Feb. 3, 2024

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“More than anything, it’s an honor. It’s exciting,” Andra told a press conference on Feb. 8, 2024. “And it feels intentional. I like to do things with intention and with purpose.”

Though she admitted to being nervous, she explained: "It’s a hymn of triumph, and that’s what I want people to encounter when I sing this song. I want them to know that we have victory and we have peace already … It feels like there’s an honor."

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