Some 23 years ago I was present at an inter-faith service for Thanksgiving in Pittsfield, MA. It took place at the Reform Judaism Synagogue Temple Anshe Amunim.
We were asked to sing a song which I had never heard before. I judged it to be unsingable. I fulminated about it after the servce.
“Why”, I grumbled, “did they have to choose a piece of music which we could not sing?”
A few years later I had cause to eat my words, and to be filled with embarrassment.
The song was the great “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” - known in former days as the Negro National Anthem. It was sung much more frequently in the American civil rights struggle days than the more popular “We shall overcome”
The song was written by James Weldon Johnson, with a tune by his brother James Rosamund Johnson.
Here is the text - a text which is so apt as Barack Obama is to be sworn in as our 44th President.
(You can also read a bit about the author, and listen to a clip on the links below).
Lift ev'ry voice and sing,'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;Let our rejoicing riseHigh as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,Let us march on 'til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feetCome to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,'Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,May we forever stand,True to our God,
True to our native land.