'Black national anthem' stirs controversy for city
DENVER - Mayor John Hickenlooper's annual State of the City address may get more attention for what wasn't included than what was.
At the start of the event Tuesday morning, City Council President Michael Hancock introduced singer Rene Marie to perform the national anthem.
Instead, she performed the song "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," which is also known as the "black national anthem."
When she finished, the audience responded with mild applause. The national anthem was never performed.
Marie told 9NEWS she kept her plans to switch songs quiet until the very last moment. She says only she, her husband and a friend knew she was going to sing something other than the "Star-Spangled Banner."
She says she wanted to express her love of her country by mixing the lyrics of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" with the melody of the "Star-Spangled Banner."
"When I decided to sing my version, what was going on in my head was: 'I want to express how I feel about living in the United States, as a black woman, as a black person,'" said Marie.
Hickenlooper's staff picked Marie to sing the national anthem. The mayor says he believes Marie did not intend to offend anyone or make a political statement.
When asked if he was offended, Hickenlooper said, "You know I was more confused and I think I was more â€“ what I was, was disappointed and confused and that's why I wanted to talk to her."
"Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1899 and set to music by his brother in 1900.
City Councilman Charlie Brown took to talk radio Tuesday afternoon to criticize the absence of the national anthem at the State of the City proceedings.
"There is no substitute for the national anthem, period," Brown said. "And that's what really bothered me. You know when we fly the flag, the American flag, it's always the highest flag, as it should be. And that didn't come across today, that didn't happen today."
In hindsight, both Brown and Hickenlooper say they should have stopped Marie or began singing themselves.
Marie says if she had the benefit of doing it over, she would sing the same song.
When asked if she would apologize for what happened she said, "No I do not."
Marie has been singing professionally for 10 years.
Brown says he doesn't have a problem with people expressing their views, but he says Marie chose the wrong venue.
Below are the full lyrics to "Lift Ev'ry Voice & Sing"
LIFT EV'RY VOICE AND SING
Also known as "The Black National Anthem"
by James Weldon Johnson
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.
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 till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come 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,
Till 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.
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