Concert honors ‘Black National
A chorus of 1,000 New Haven schoolchildren singing the inspiring “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” popularly
known as the “Black National Anthem,” will be the first of two events
at Yale on Friday, April 4, celebrating the life and spirit of the song’s
writer, James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), and the collection of African-American
arts and letters that bears his name at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript
The morning performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” will take
place at 10:30 a.m., with students from the New Haven Public Schools filling
Yale’s Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets.
The celebration of Johnson’s legacy will resume at 7:30 p.m. in Battell
Chapel with renowned dancer Carmen de Lavallade’s performance and recitation
of Johnson’s poem “The Creation.” Other highlights of the evening
event include performances by the Mitchell-Ruff Duo and the Connecticut-based
community chorus Heritage Chorale.
The event coincides with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr., which will be marked by the recitation of King’s 1967
speech, “Where Do We Go From Here?” by actor Ken Robinson of the
Yale School of Drama. Another chorus of “Lift Every Voice” by 300
schoolchildren will complete the evening tribute to the songwriter.
The 7:30 p.m. event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required.
They are available 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Yale School of Music
box office, 470 College St. The event is hosted by the Duke Ellington Fellowship
at Yale, with support from the School of Music, the Provost’s Office and
the Beinecke Library.
Novelist, poet, lawyer, early civil rights activist and educator, Johnson was
a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a pivotal period of intellectual,
political and cultural foment, from which much of the distinctly African-American
art, literature and music of the 20th century dates.
Johnson grew up in Florida, the son of a waiter and the first female black teacher
in that state. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature
at Atlanta University, and was the first African-American to pass the bar in
the state of Florida. In 1906 he became the American consul in Puerto Cabello,
Venezuela, and in 1909, consul in Corinto, Nicaragua. In 1920, he was appointed
executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People. His works include: “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” “The Book of American Negro Poetry,” “God’s
Trombones” and “Along This Way.”
Johnson wrote the words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in 1900 to
music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954).
The April 4 performances are being presented in recognition of the extensive
James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale in
the Beinecke Library. The collection, founded in 1941 by Carl Van Vechten, is
renowned for its holdings of masterpieces of the Harlem Renaissance, including
the original manuscripts of Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Langston
Hughes’ “The Weary Blues,” Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their
Eyes Were Watching God” and Johnson’s “Autobiography of an
Ex-Colored Man” and “God’s Trombones.” Also included
among the papers, correspondence, art and memorabilia that make up the Johnson
Collection are the doctoral thesis of W.E.B. Dubois, with notes by William James;
music by Fats Waller and W.C. Handy; and Van Vechten’s photographs of such
stage and screen notables as Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Alvin Ailey and Ethel
Waters, to name only a few.
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