The Black National Anthem, aka Lift Every Voice and Sing, should never suffer the indignity afflicted upon it Wednesday night at the White house.
There was Smokey Robinson, one of America’s best singer-songwriters, smiling at the camera while drawing an absolute blank. There was Jennifer Hudson looking similarly perplexed, along with Morgan Freeman, Natalie Cole and the evening’s host, President Obama.
There they were, at the end of the White House’s Civil Rights Concert, with big grins, bright eyes and virtually no idea of the words beyond “Lift every voice and sing.”
It was sad and shameful, pitiful and pathetic.
Look, I know everyone won’t take it upon himself to commit the song to memory. And seeing how it’s usually sung just a couple of times per year at most, I understand why there’s often some uncertainty in getting through the first verse (let alone the frequently abandoned second and third verses).
So it’s no surprise that Robinson and others in the East Room didn’t know the words at the end of event, televised Thursday by PBS. The same is true for many, if not most of us.
Obama should have followed the lead of typical event organizers who want the song as part of the program: Distribute the lyrics!
But the singers’ cluelessness wasn’t the only reason I simmered while they butchered James Weldon Johnson’s sacred song. Their full-watt smiles and light-hearted attitudes were totally inappropriate for the solemn message of Lift Every Voice and Sing.