February is Black History Month and I have been searching the web for a nice rendition of the song Lift Every Voice and Sing. This is otherwise known as the Negro or Black National Anthem. I found an excellent performance recorded on YouTube by over one hundred students and alumni of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). They are members of the National HBCU Concert Choir.
That means something special to me because I attended Huston-Tillotson University back in the mid-1970s. Sure enough there was a member of the choir from H-TU.
The school was called Huston-Tillotson College back then. I was there for just a couple of years before I transferred credit to Iowa State University, graduating from ISU in the mid-1980s. I remember my first year in the men’s dormitory. That’s right, the women were separated from the men. There was no air conditioning, if you can imagine that in the sweltering summer of Austin, Texas.
I remember vividly the powerful rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing as performed by a woman on an evening radio show I would listen to while trying not to think about the heat. She sang it before every show. I don’t remember anything else about the format or content of the program—just her impossibly perfect voice. I have not heard anything more compelling since then by a single performer.
The history of the song and the lyrics is on the NAACP web site. The first performance was by 500 schoolchildren. The National HBCU Concert Choir version probably fits the intention of the authors, James Weldon Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson. It’s in the title of the song itself, Lift Every Voice and Sing. It’s meant to be sung by many in unison.