Vanessa Williams‘ decision to perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” adopted as the Black National Anthem, at PBS’ annual Independence Day “A Capitol Fourth” musical program is receiving backlash from more conservative viewers, who flooded Twitter to comment that there is already a national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The “Save the Best for Last” singer also hosted the July Fourth event, which has aired annually on PBS since 1980, and chose to perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” ” in celebration of the wonderful opportunity that we now have to celebrate Juneteenth.” It appears that many viewers didn’t see it that way.
“It’s in celebration of the wonderful opportunity that we now have to celebrate Juneteenth,” she told The Associated Press of her plan ahead of the Washington, D.C., event — which featured pre-taped performances from more than a dozen music acts, many of them country stars, before finishing with the traditional live fireworks show accompanied by a rendition of the “1812 Overture” — referring to the recent signing of the holiday into federal law by President Joe Biden. “So we are reflective of the times.”
According to PBS, the event’s purpose was to “honor men and women of our military and their families for their contributions to our nation and their dedication to service, which exemplifies the American ideals we celebrate on the Fourth of July.”
Williams’ performance, as well as PBS, drew criticism from Twitter users who accused her of promoting separation for singing the Black National Anthem at a July Fourth event.
“Vanessa Williams performing a ‘black national anthem’ is messed up. On a day where we celebrate our diversity and are supposed to come together l, she chooses division.”
“@PBS I used tup be a big supporter of @PBS. Since you had the Black national anthem sung by vanessa Williams, I won’t be supporting you anymore. It’s unamerican and wrong. We pay your stations through our taxes and donations. I won’t be watching. Screw you and Williams”
“Huh? We already have a national anthem for all people. The Star Spangled Banner! This is ridiculous and will not be tolerated.”
“I’m glad I missed it and didn’t have to take a knee. Last time I checked it for now it is still the United States of America.”
Others defended the “Soul Food” actress.
Ms. Vanessa Williams, your finale with the Black National Anthem in recognition of Juneteenth and our history in America is the first time I’ve ever felt spiritually included in this event. The ancestors are smiling 😊Thank you!💐
“Quit trippin’!!! Wait until they find out we have a black version of Happy Birthday!!! #StevieWonder”
“Vanessa Williams singing Lift every voice and sing was just what we all needed to hear. Don’t care what conservatives griping about – I’d be thrilled to have that song replace our current national anthem.”
“White people being up in arms about Vanessa Williams performing Lift Every Voice and Sing is really interesting. This song has existed as the Black National Anthem for over 100 years. They really have no clue about Black culture, while we know them better than they realize.”
It was not clear from the tweets if any of the complainers watched the 90-minute program — billed in advance by executive producer Michael Colbert as “We have something for everyone’s party” — as the show actually opened with a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung by Grammy-winning soprano Renée Fleming.
The opposers failed to point out the racist history of the full song, however. Although many only know the first verse, it goes on to take a pro-slavery stance in a later verse which reads, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave / And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave.”
As of this writing, Williams has not responded to the backlash over her performance.