Sunday, February 25, 2007

Introduction to Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing

During Black History Month (February) Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship has closed every service with the hymn Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. The first Sunday we sang Lift Ev’ry Voice, I introduced it to the congregation. My research uncovered much more than I was able to include in a short talk. Now what is a blogger to do with all that good material, if not to turn it into blog posts! This introduction, therefore, will be followed by four more posts. The first will chronicle the life of James Weldon Johnson, the poet and lyricist of the song. The second post will be devoted to J. Rosamond Johnson, the musician and composer of the song. The last two posts will focus on the song itself.

Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing was written in 1900 by two brothers who were very accomplished and well known in their time. Though the song was written for a particular event at a particular time in history, its perspective has become timeless for the inspiration it has offered, and offers still. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with it. This link to the NPR’s archives (which requires RealPlayer) will play a lovely choral rendition. As you listen, please follow along with the words below. If the NPR link above doesn’t work for you, listen to this piano version from the Cyberhymnal, reading the words in rhythm with the music.

Words by James Weldon Johnson
Music by J. Rosamond Johnson

The apostrophes (inserted by the author) and hyphens (inserted by the blogger) denote melody pitch changes.

Lift ev'ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heav-en ring,
Ring with the har-mon-ies of Li-ber-ty;
Let our re-joic-ing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it re-sound loud as the roll-ing sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the pres-ent has brought us;
Facing the ris-ing sun of our new day be-gun,
Let us march on till vic-tory is won.

Ston-y the road we trod,
Bit-ter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope un-born had died;
Yet with a stead-y beat,
Have not our wear-y feet
Come to the place for which our fath-ers sighed?
We have come o-ver a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, tread-ing our path through the blood of the slaugh-tered,
Out from the gloom-y past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our wear-y years,
God of our si-lent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us in-to the light,
Keep us for-e-ver in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the plac-es, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we for-get Thee;
Sha-dowed be-neath Thy hand,
May we for-e-ver stand,
True to our God,
True to our na-tive land.

© 2007, Linda Mason Hood
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