Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Redmond, Shana L. “Indivisible: The Nation and Its Anthem in Black Musical Performance.” Black Music Research Journal 35, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 97–118.

René Marie’s performance of the national anthem at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, where she sang lyrics of Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing to the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner, grapples with the experience of race and gender during the dawning of “postracial” America. Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, written by James Weldon Johnson and Rosamond Johnson in the early twentieth century, became known as the black national anthem during the 1920s and 1930s, as black American communities organized around creating a collective identity and rallying to fight for Civil Rights. Marie’s performance challenged the idea of a “national anthem” by forcing her audience to confront an alternate anthem, and thus an alternate national identity. By singing alternative lyrics to the familiar (and politicized) tune, Marie highlighted this duality in a way that just singing one or the other could not. Anthems as a genre are a living performance of national identity and are not fixed, but are flexible between historical contexts. Marie’s identity as a black woman lent additional weight to her performance, in hearing as well as watching. An earlier correlate to this performance was Marian Anderson’s performance of America in 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial, which expressed both the national unity and the oppression still felt by many people in America at the time. Marie’s performance fundamentally altered the terrain of musical representation as Obama’s nomination altered it politically.

Works: René Marie: Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing (to the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner).

Sources: James Weldon Johnson and Rosamond Johnson: Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing; Francis Scott Key: The Star-Spangled Banner.

Index Classifications: 2000s, Popular

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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