This morning, I challenged my children to tell me why they weren’t in school and what was special about the day. For the Youngest Member, who is not yet six, I accepted the statement that it was Martin Luther King day, and that Martin Luther King helped people fight against segregation. Not bad. A bit later, as the Perfect Non-Reader of this Tohu Bohu (age eleven) was on her way to her Morning of Service, I got quite a bit more detail out of her. After I was satisfied, my Best Reader asked her what her favorite Martin Luther King Day carol was. The Perfect Non-Reader, without batting a proverbial, responded I know one thing I did right/was the day I started to fight. So that’s all right.
Then I sang some Mary, Don’t You Weep and my Best Reader sang Step By Step and then I sang This Little Light of Mine and the Perfect one sang—I don’t remember, but it was something appropriate. We Shall Overcome, probably. And it was good.
I went on to work, and in the middle of the day went to my employer’s observance, which had a speech and some music and some poetry, and then we were all asked to join in Lift Every Voice and Sing. And what happened, or what I saw anyway among the people who were near me, was that all the African-Americans of a certain age got up and sang. And the white folk of a certain age (Your Humble Blogger is in this group) got up and peered at the words that were printed on our programs and mumbled along as best we could, feeling completely alien. The younger people near me didn’t sing, of course, being younger people. I don’t know if any of them knew the words or not, because, young people in public. Not gonna sing. But amongst us certain-age folk, it was clear: the African-Americans knew the song and expected to sing together; the white folk not so much.
So here’s the thing: we were trying to come up with songs for MLK and we didn’t think of Lift Every Voice and Sing. I’m just saying: we didn’t think of it. And that really isn’t surprising for white Americans of my age. We didn’t even think of it.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
Hmm. I wouldn’t be so quick to generalize about that. I know “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, and I would have thought of it. I say that not to point out how evolved I am, but just to say that I don’t think the divide in terms of this song is quite as stark as the picture you paint.
fwiw: it’s not a song I could have thought of, because I didn’t know of it prior to this blog post.
I’d also never heard of Lift Every Voice And Sing before; I know the others you mentioned, although not all of them well enough to sing in a small group.
This is fascinating! I have heard of Life Every Voice and Sing, but I don’t think I know it well enough to, er, sing it. I know all the others (and indeed, some of them are frequently among the Bedtime Songs), though I know “one thing I did right / was the day I started to fight” as a line within “Eyes on the Prize” (or “Hand on the Plow,” depending).
…and even after previewing, I still managed to typo the title of the song in question. *facepalm*
Wikipedia (unsourced) says ‘sometimes referred to as “The Negro National Hymn” or “The African-American National Anthem”‘. I know the melody and the first line, but would need lyrics to sing along with it. I would’ve had roughly V’s reaction: wouldn’t have thought of it, would’ve later thought it was an obvious choice in retrospect.
The version I’ve heard most often is Talisman A Cappella’s, but I had certainly heard it before that. No idea where or when I first heard it. I do think of it as an African-American song, but didn’t know much more about it until I looked it up just now.
I should add that I would’ve had the same reaction to “This Little Light of Mine,” which I would also need lyrics for.
Ah, now, see, if you were a Bruce Springsteen fan, you would need neither lyrics nor sheet music for “This Little Light of Mine”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTebgVrHEVM 🙂
Damn, but that man is boss.
Actually, the reason my Perfect one and the Youngest Member know “Hand on the Plow” and “We Shall Overcome” and “Mary, Don’t You Weep” is because of Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions, which was the default CD in the car for quite some time.
…as it was in ours for quite some time as well. “This Little Light of Mine” is from the Live in Dublin CD/DVD, though, which contains many of the Seeger Sessions tunes as well as some real gems.
I maintain that Springsteen’s primary contribution to both endeavors was to assemble the musicians in a room together and hit the “record” button, though. That band…hoo, boy.
You are surely not wrong about the band, but I figure that Bruce was the one who said Let’s take this one fast and let’s try this stretching this one out and Let’s take this one REALLY fast.
And also—Have you read Posnanski on Springsteen? Not taking anything away from the band, any of his bands, but there’s something about his essential bossness that I think contributes to the band kicking ass. I’ve been listening to more of his stuff recently, and I’m beginning to wonder if I was underrating him all the way around.