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.
It's beautiful. To hear it sung is even more beautiful. Unless …
Unless you're asked to sing one song and replace it with these words.
Colorado based jazz singer Rene Marie chose to sing the words of the song "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing", sometimes referred to as the "Black National Anthem" to the tune of the "Star Spangled Banner" at a government function this past week in Denver, Colorado. In what was a beautiful artistic performance, some say she has thrown gasoline on a firestorm of racial discourse in our country.
On her website, she claims not to have tried to start a controversy with her substitution of words but claims to be using "artistic expression" when doing a different version of the National Anthem. She knew before accepting the offer to sing by the mayor's office in June, she would be singing her "own version".
She is surprised about all of the tah-do about the switch but doesn't feel she acted deceitfully toward the organizers of the event, in which the mayor was to give his "State of the City" address. The mayor claims that "no one paid attention to that speech" after the song. Mayor John Hickenlooper said he had spent the better part of two weeks of work preparing for the speech and his staff had spent weeks preparing for the event.
That seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe what the mayor meant to say was "no one was talking about my speech the next day". That part was very true. What most people wanted to talk about was Rene Marie and her audacity in changing the song she was asked to sing.
I guess the fact of changing the words is not accepted and would not be considered respectful. Just as disrespectful as Ozzy Osborne mumbling through the words at Wrigley Field in 2003 or Rosanne Barr grabbing her crotch at the end of her off key rendition before a ball game in California in 1990. The mayor later in the week said that the Star Spangled Banner "is sacred" and shouldn't be tampered with, as it is "one of our most beloved traditions".
Sacred? Great. Now we are going to bring religion into the debate.
The next day, Colorado's Governor Bill Ritter said that the artist's substitution was "inappropriate". Even the prospective Democratic Presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, who was asked for a statement on the issue, agreed with the governor's comments. "We only have one national anthem," Obama said "and so, if she was asked to sing the national anthem, she should have sung that. 'Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing' is a beautiful song, but we only have one national anthem."
Well, for now, we can be assured that Rene Marie will not be asked to sing at any government functions for quite some time. And my guess is that any artist invited to sing in the future will be asked to sign a contract and submit a recording of exactly how they would sing the National Anthem if selected.