*Singer / Arranger / Producer Jarrett Johnson and legendary Bass vocalist Alvin Chea of Take 6 are GRAMMY-nominated this year for Best Arrangement for their recording of the 115-year-old anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It is the sole A Cappella entry in a category traditionally known for celebrating innovative vocal arrangements. The Grammy winner will be revealed on January 31, 2021 (Watch it above).
Veterans of the Civil Rights era recall the singing of the venerable anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at nearly every march, rally or strategy meeting. It is a hopeful plea for equality. Now known as the Black National Anthem in the U.S, it was dubbed the Negro National Anthem in 1919 by the NAACP. As time went by and the fervor of black activism waned, the song too became a vestige of prior generations. While old-guard organizations like the NAACP continued the tradition of singing the poem turned song at their gatherings, “Lift Every Voice” had lost its voice. 2020 brought with it a global pandemic that disproportionately impacted Blacks followed by the murder of George Floyd captured on video for the world to see fueling global protests and recognition that Black Lives Matter.
In the summer of 2020, Jarrett Johnson, a credited songwriter with Quincy Jones, Michael Bublé and others, won the NAACP “Lift Every Voice and Sing” competition and the opportunity to have his version performed at the Virtual March on Washington celebrating the 57th Anniversary of the march. It was then he and his friend Alvin Chea realized they had something special in their new arrangement of the song which inspired them both as children. Written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson in 1905, it was first sung at a birthday celebration for Abraham Lincoln.
On The Significance of “Lift Every Voice And Sing”
“The significance of “Lift Every Voice And Sing” goes all the way back to when I was very young in church. The actual song has been in my life for as long as I can remember. The idea that 115 years later since its writing it being brought back to prominence as an anthem that’s always been relevant and always been important but it actually getting the visibility that it deserves again, at such a crucial and crazy time for us as People of Color, I could not be more honored and proud to be a vessel in this moment where we have such an opportunity to bring back such a powerful and important song for the history of this country and the history of Black people.” – Jarrett Johnson, Grammy Nominee, Best Arrangement, Instruments or A Cappella
“Lift Every Voice and Sing is significant, especially for Black people. It’s a song of peace, it’s a song of hope, it’s a song of looking forward, not looking back…recognizing that there’s some history, but looking forward with hope. It really meant a lot for us as a people, especially this year we’ve had so much pain that’s happened in the Black community. Through the George Floyd murder, through COVID and the ravages of an administration that left the Black community and people of color behind. It’s very significant” – Alvin Chea, 10X Grammy Winner
In a year marked by civil unrest and protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Johnson felt that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” deserved a modern musical interpretation. As fate would have it, he received a call from legendary Christian singer Sandi Patty, where she encouraged him to record the song. Jarrett set about recording his version and recruiting Alvin Chea who took a break from his hectic virtual appearance schedule to record his part. According to Wikipedia, the song is a prayer of thanksgiving for faithfulness and freedom, with imagery evoking the biblical Exodus from slavery to the freedom of the “promised land.” It is featured in 39 different Christian hymnals and is sung in churches across North America.
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