Happy Black History Month ~ Lift Every Voice and Sing


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Group portrait (left to right) of composers Bob Cole, James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson, circa 1900s.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

This being the first day of Black History Month, I thought I would reblog a post from 2011 about “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written brothers, James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson.

On February 12, 1900, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first performed by 500 school children in Jacksonville, Florida to celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.  James Weldon Johnson wrote the words and his brother, Rosamond wrote the music.  As the story goes, the brothers moved to New York City soon after and eventually forgot about the song.  But not the school children who continued to sing it, and when they grew up taught it to other school children.  By the 1920s children and adults were singing the song all over the South as well as in other parts of the country.  Today it is known as the Black National Anthem.

It is one of the most beautiful and moving songs I know.  There are countless versions of it available on YouTube.  There’s an especially beautiful arrangement by Roland Carter  performed by a chorus of students from Bowie State University, Cheyney State University, Lincoln University (PA), UMES and Delaware State. But, I’m partial to the traditional version, which you can hear sung by the choir and congregation at the historic Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

Lift Every Voice and Sing
Lift ev’ry 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.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ~ He was a Poem

Martin Luther King Jr. delivers a speech at Girard College, Philadelphia, 1965. Source, Library of Congress.

As I was reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy this morning, it occurred to me that this week is the 10th anniversary of a program I started at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to honor Dr. King.  I’m so happy that “He was a Poem” has endured.  It was a pleasure curating the 2005, 2006 and 2007 programs, jointly sponsored by the UNC Chapel Libraries and the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.  “He was a Poem” evolved over the years and is now known as  “He was a Poem, He was a Song.”  This year’s celebration takes place at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, January 20th at the Stone Center.   In case you’re wondering, I took the title from a line in a Gwendolyn Brooks poem, where she calls King a “prose poem.”

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Colour of Music – Black Classical Musicians Festival

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 6.46.39 PMI just heard about this amazing festival that takes place next week in Charleston, South Carolina (with a prelude this Friday, October 17th).  I’m so bummed that I won’t be able to attend, but it’s just the sort of thing I would love to do it.  Based on information at the festival website, it appears this is second year for this festival, which is being hosted by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Spiritual Ensemble.  Check out the full program here.  I wish they would stream some of these, but as most are fee based, it’s seems unlikely.

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Regina Anderson Andrews: Harlem Renaissance Librarian

reginaIn 2011 I wrote about a friend who was working on the first book length biography of Regina Anderson Andrews. I am pleased to announce Regina Anderson Andrews: Harlem Renaissance Librarian by Dr. Ethelene Whitmire has just been published by University of Illinois Press.

Ms. Andrews was a trailblazer, an activist, playwright and librarian.  She started at the famous 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL).  She eventually worked at other branches and became the first African American branch manager in NYPL history.

To celebrate its publication, I’m giving away one free copy.  If interested, just leave a comment by Tuesday, May 27, 2014. I will announce the recipient on Wednesday, May 28th.  Cheers!

Posted in Books, Librarians, Libraries, Women, Writers | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Kara Walker

Kara Walker. You either love her work. Hate her work. Or, love to hate her work.  Known for her large-scale silhouettes, that quite literally fill a room, Ms. Walker was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1997 when she was 28 years old. The silhouettes have been variously described as stunning, charming, exquisite, magnetic, graphic, violent, racially charged. To me, they are provocative, “exploring controversial themes of race, gender, sexuality, and violence” that some may find uncomfortable.

Ms. Walker is in the news of late because of her just completed, first-time, public art project at the soon to be demolished Domino sugar factor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Presented by Creative Time, “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” is hard to describe! (And, yes that is the complete title!) It is a towering figure sculpted in sugar. Roberta Smith describes it in the New York Times as a   “…woman-sphinx with undeniably black features and wearing only an Aunt Jemima kerchief and earrings, it is beautiful, brazen and disturbing, and above all a densely layered statement that both indicts and pays tribute.” The sculpture will be on view through July 6, 2014.

Tonight, Ms. Walker will be in conversation with Jad Abumrad, the host and creator of Radiolab, at the New York Public Library. Their conversation “will explore the history and meaning of sugar…and the route of the triangle trade, from Africa to America, from ancient monuments to modern appetites, from behemoth, crumbling temples of industry to the laborers and slaves often unseen in those histories. It’s a history of sugar, sex, sweetness, power, and the secret mystery at the center of the exhibition.”   You can livestream the conversation at 7:00 p.m.

More about “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby:”

More about Kara Walker:
A Wikipedia entry includes a list of selected and solo exhibitions, recommended readings and links to more information. Also check out the Art of Kara Walker at the Walker Art Center and on PBS’ Art21.

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10 Black Directors to Watch in 2014

 ICYMI, check out Paste Magazine’s 10 Black Directors to Watch in 2014. Number 1 on the list is Ryan Coogler of Fruitvale Station fame. Definitely a must see film.  Don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I won’t reveal any other names, but trust…you will want to know these individuals and see their feature or documentary films.  While you’re at Paste, check out 10 Women Directors to Watch in 2014, which includes Ava DuVernay and Gina Prince-Bythewood.

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Carrie Mae Weems LIVE: Past Tense/Future Perfect – April 25-27, 2014

weems_series-690This weekend at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, photographer, Carrie Mae Weems “hosts an all-star cast for a weekend of programs focusing on contemporary cultural production in the areas of dance, film, literature, music, theater, and visual art. This multidisciplinary performance-salon features musicians, artists, activists, writers, and other renowned guests throughout a three-day celebration of spirit and ideas.”   These events are in conjunction with Weems’ exhibit, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, on view at the Guggenheim through May 14, 2014.  For those outside of New York City, some of the events scheduled for Friday and Saturday will be livestreamed.

Carrie Mae Weems is a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellow.  Also on view in New York City is, Carrie Mae Weems: The Museum Series, at Studio Museum in Harlem through June 29, 2014.

Carrie Mae Weems: The Museum Series
Carrie Mae Weems: The Museum Series
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