As a young teacher, I moved to Texas and began work at a Houston public school where my students first introduced me to the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” I can still remember a 6th grader named Robert singing it for me with his gorgeous voice. The history of the song, and its inspiring message, made me feel taken aback that I had never heard about it before.
The lyrics speak of the joys, hopes, and resilience of African Americans. It was written by James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother John. In 1900 a choir of 500 children sang it at an anniversary celebration of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln. In 1919 it became the official song of the NAACP. This week, in honor of Juneteenth, enjoy songwriter Jarrett Johnson’s stirring a cappella arrangement.
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty,
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.