Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Black National Anthem:  Have We Lost Our Collective Minds? 

No.  We haven’t lost our collective minds.  We just can’t be bothered to use them any longer.  Too lazy, perhaps.  Too distracted with the price of gas maybe?  Or has stupidity and arrogance taken over as the driving, guiding force in our society today?

No.  This country’s citizens simply don’t have the collective balls to stand up for our history, our common heritage (blemishes and all),  or the ideal of a nation striving for equality and justice for all.  So to speak.  And, yes, stupidity and arrogance have taken over as the driving, guiding force in our society today, as demonstrated by jazz singer Rene Marie on July 1, 2008 in Denver, Colorado during the opening of the Denver State of the City Address.  

A “Black National Anthem”?  Who’s asinine idea was that?  Well, I suppose it wasn’t conceived as asinine when penned in February of 1900 by James Weldon Johnson.  (1871-1938)  Written by Johnson as a poem titled “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”,  the work was set to music by Johnson’s brother, and performed in Jacksonville, Florida by a children’s choir to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900.  It was considered to be a song of patriotism and hope for the future for African American citizens, and was nicknamed the “Black National Anthem” by, I suppose no one in particular or of any consequence. That’s all well and fine. 

However, jazz singer Rene Marie was invited by the Denver Mayor’s office to sing the National Anthem before his annual State of the City Address.  Instead, she performed “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” to the melody of the Star Spangled Banner.  

She has, fortunately for those of us with some national dignity left, been criticized and rebuked for her action.  But unfortunately, Ms Marie did not apologize, but said that she had no regrets.  As quoted in a story by Russell Goldman of ABC News, Ms Marie said that she wanted to  express how she felt about “ in this country as a black woman.”  “Art is supposed to make you think, “ she said.  “ I wanted to express how I felt, being a black woman living in this country.” 

Therein lies the arrogance.  No one asked her how she felt as a black woman, a woman, a jazz singer, or as an aging diva in her own mind.  No one was interested in her “art”.  They simply wanted her to sing the National Anthem.  That, in itself should have been a hint to Ms Marie that she was (I stress WAS) a respected citizen, woman, and if skin color had anything to do with it, a “black woman.”  Damn, woman!  Just sing the Star Spangled Banner and let that be its own expression!  What’s wrong with people? 

Next time, the mayor’s office should simply get a children’s choir to sing the National Anthem.  But the stupidity is that Rene Marie will become a sounding board for those with an ax to grind, or an agenda to push.  Maybe she and Michelle Obama can team up and give us all lessons in art, pride, and expression.  

Come on Americans.  Start making noise about these self-serving “artists” and activists who cannot or will not join together and celebrate a common bond of citizenship.  Such arrogance as demonstrated by Rene Marie this week, only creates divisions between all races, all creeds, all citizens.  Let’s end the stupidity or there may be more serious sentiments we will all have to “express” about living in this country.  

I hope jazz singer Rene Marie will have an opportunity this July 4th to say the Pledge and sing the National Anthem, and keep the arrogance and stupidity of her "art" to herself. 


(c)R.Burnett Baker 2008