By now most people have heard that the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was performed at the Super Bowl by actress Sheryl Lee Ralph. Of course, there has been some discourse online about the song being sung before the national anthem or even being sung at all. But let’s focus on the history of the moment, because oh, history was made.
History was made all over the Super Bowl. It was the first time two Black quarterbacks faced off on the NFL’s biggest stage. It was the first time two brothers played against each other in the championship. (Hello, Kelce bros and their poor mom torn between two children.) It was also the first time that the Black national anthem was sung at the Super Bowl, but not just that. February 12, the day of the game, was the 123rd anniversary of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” being premiered in public.
Interestingly enough, that song, which has been coined the Black national anthem and holds extreme significance to the Black community, is nearly as old as the actual national anthem that everyone learns.
While the national anthem was written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, it wasn’t until 1931 that it was adopted as the U.S. national anthem by Congress. But the Black national anthem, written by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson and his brother John Rosamond Johnson in 1900, was sung publicly by 500 school children the same year to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It was first written as a poem by James, then his brother John composed music to it. Since its first public singing, it’s been sung in Black households, churches and sororities.
The song was sung and continues to be sung as a sign of hope, togetherness and strength to face and overcome adversity. While the U.S. National Anthem leaves out the lesser-known verses that would give people pause, there’s nothing wrong with preferring it. But the Black national anthem is a beautiful reminder that together we can get through anything, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the history of it being sung at the Super Bowl.
Watch Sheryl Lee Ralph sing it below:
u201cSheryl Lee Ralph looked and sounded amazing, singing “The Black National Anthem” ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ during the Superbowl pre-game show, which happens to also be 123 years to the date, when the hymn was first publicly sung!u201d
— The Hillman Files (@The Hillman Files)