“A Capitol Fourth” sparks controversy after performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

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FILE – In this Saturday, July 4, 2020, file photo, Fourth of July fireworks explode over the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol along the National Mall in Washington. President Joe Biden wants to imbue Independence Day with new meaning in 2021 by encouraging nationwide celebrations to mark the country’s effective return to normalcy after 16 months of pandemic disruption. The White House says the National Mall in Washington will host the traditional fireworks ceremony and it’s encouraging other communities hold festivities as well. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRPROUD) – “A Capitol Fourth” aired Sunday night on PBS.

The 90-minute PBS show was hosted by Vanessa Williams.

What was supposed to be a celebration of the nation’s 245th birthday has devolved into controversy after Williams sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the ‘Black national anthem.’

According to the NAACP, the song is “often referred to as “The Black National Anthem,” Lift Every Voice and Sing was a hymn written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900.”

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

“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was not the only song that Williams performed during the show.

Williams sang “God Bless America” and the former Miss America was joined by various artists during the show including:

  • Renée Fleming Performs the National Anthem
  • Kermit the Frog performs, “Rainbow Connection”
  • Alan Jackson sings, “America the Beautiful”
  • Gladys Knight performs her classic song, “Midnight Train to Georgia” for A Capitol Fourth 2021.
  • Pentatonix performs, “Seasons of Love”
  • Jimmy Buffett’s inspired version of the Americana classic, “This Land is Your Land,” made its debut on A Capitol Fourth!
  • Auli’i Cravalho performs, “A Whole New World”

Vanessa Williams said this prior to singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “As I prepare to sing this next song, I am filled with the spirit of freedom and the perseverance that is required to achieve that most precious right. I dedicate this to our ancestors, to our new federal holiday Juneteenth and to all who celebrate freedom.”

After the performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” reaction was swift online.

On one side, viewers questioned whether it was appropriate to sing the “Black national anthem” during ‘A Capitol Fourth.’

Lavern Spicer, a former Republican candidate in Florida said this,

Others had a very different reaction to the performance by Vanessa Williams:

Williams tweeted this out on Monday night:

“A Capitol Fourth” was first broadcast on PBS in 1981.

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