Williams exposes White fragility with Black anthem

Vanessa Williams
(Williams will sing The Star Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing)

Vanessa Williams, the first Black woman crowned Miss America in 1984, award-winning actress, and singer, is no stranger to controversy. Almost on brand, she inadvertently created another storm of conflict by simply singing a song for our nation’s Independence Day.  

According to The Hill, the talented actress and vocalist will perform Lift Every Voice and Sing in honor of Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration of African American heritage and culture that was recently recognized as a federal holiday.

On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned the Civil War had ended, and that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed them almost two years prior.

“It’s in celebration of the wonderful opportunity that we now have to celebrate Juneteenth,” Williams tells The Associated Press. “So we are reflective of the times.” 

As news of the pre-recorded performance hit Twitter on Saturday, people began to blast the upcoming special as “racist” and promoting “segregationism.” Specifically, many took the use of the phrase “Black national anthem” in The Hill’s coverage of the event to mean that the 4th of July will no longer represent all Americans. 

The Hill on Twitter: “Vanessa Williams to sing “Black national anthem” for Capitol Fourth celebration https://t.co/HomcPXv3ah… “

As “Black national anthem” began trending, several individuals in support of Williams’ performance took the opportunity to educate the Twitterverse on the history of Lift Every Voice and Sing and to take a few jabs at those who are ignorant of it. 

And some saw no issues with the song being sung in addition to our National Anthem. 


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Williams told the Associated Press that she hopes the song will bring a sense of celebration to the nation. Last year, she used her platform at the Independence Day show, where she sang Not While I’m Around from the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd to express what she was feeling as the mother of a Black son in the weeks following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, according to The Hill.

Lift Every Voice and Sing was originally written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1900, and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, later composed music to accompany the lyrics.

The song became a critical part of history and the NAACP used it as a rallying call during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the organization’s website. The song has been a staple of Black culture and Beyoncé significantly increased its visibility when she sang it during her landmark Coachella performance in 2018

A Capitol Fourth is set to air July 4th on PBS. While this year’s celebration will be done remotely due to the pandemic, the show is prerecorded and will include several remote performances including Broadway stars like  Cynthia Erivo, Christopher Jackson, and Laura Osnes plus R&B legend Gladys Knight, country stars Alan Jackson and Jennifer Nettles, and the iconic Jimmy Buffett.

There are a few guests that are literally out of this world. “We have three of our astronauts that are up in the space station that will be giving us a special message for the Fourth of July” Williams told the Associated Press

The celebration is scheduled to have a live fireworks display.