Many casual NFL fans were surprised to hear Grammy winner Alicia Keys singing the Black national anthem before the Super Bowl LV game.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” has long been a staple at Black gatherings such as church events and social empowerment meetings. In fact, the lyrics, written by novelist and NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson, comprise the official song for the civil rights organization.
But Sunday’s previously recorded performance by Keys elicited mixed emotions from viewers. Some were overjoyed that the anthem that means so much to them has found a place in national professional sports. Others were incensed, calling it another example of divisiveness among the races. Some said they had no problem with the song but didn’t feel a sporting event was the appropriate venue.
“I just wish the @NFL would have paid attention when @Kaepernick7 was peacefully calling attention to these injustice,” tweeted TenishaTaylorMade. “Maybe some of our brothers & sisters would still be alive.”
“The @aliciakeys performance of ‘Life Every Voice” had me in tears,” tweeted Charlene Norris.
“This performance by alicia of this traditional song was awesome i loved it,” posted John Dwyer6 on a YouTube channel that showed the video.
But not everyone was inspired by the words or the songstress.
Social Media Had a Love/Hate Reaction to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ at Super Bowl
“I would much rather hear Alicia Keys sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, the real National Anthem of the United States of America,” posted Tammi Davis on the same site. “She sang it so beautifully at the Super Bowl in 2013. Singing this black national anthem does absolutely nothing but cause more racial division.”
“Seems to me a lot of African-Americans died for the flag and the Star Spangled Banner defending the United States of America. Thumbs down to this song, totally decisive in every way,” posted Bill Hodges.
“don’t you love the propaganda,” posted Tomas Tur
“Why was this even needed?” posted Jose Martinez.
NAACP DeKalb County President Teresa Hardy wasn’t surprised that some social media commenters didn’t like the song or understand its relevance.
“We are just getting to a point where we identify and acknowledge racism in this country,” she said. “It used to be you couldn’t say you were proud to be Black — or even say Black.”
She recalled working on a committee about diversity and inclusion and having a discussion about whether the terms “Blacks” or “African-Americans” could be used.
“They wanted to say ‘people of color’ instead,” Hardy recalled.
She added she’d like to see the song sung at every NFL game.
“Blacks make a significant portion of the players and fans,” she said. “Why not acknowledge them?”
The NFL has already headed in that direction.
Rep. Clyburn: To Make It a National Hymn … Would Be An Act of Bringing the Country Together.
This past September saw every team use “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at their season opener. Some, like the Kansas City Chiefs, played it at every game.
And House Majority Whip James Clyburn introduced a bill in January to make it a national hymn.
“To make it a national hymn, I think, would be an act of bringing the country together. It would say to people, ‘You aren’t singing a separate national anthem, you are singing the country’s national hymn,'” Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, told USA Today. “The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”
The six-page bill has an uphill battle, however. “God Bless America” and “America The Beautiful” have also been proposed as the national hymn and gotten nowhere.