Vanessa Williams to sing ‘Black national anthem’ for Capitol Fourth celebration
American actress and vocalist Vanessa Williams will be performing the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” widely known as the Black National Anthem, while hosting PBS’s 41st annual “A Capitol Fourth” celebration, airing Sunday.
Williams in an interview with The Associated Press published Friday said that she will be singing the anthem as a way to promote Juneteenth during the show, which was prerecorded because of the pandemic but will have a live fireworks presentation.
“It’s in celebration of the wonderful opportunity that we now have to celebrate Juneteenth. So we are reflective of the times,” she said just weeks after President Biden signed into law an act designating June 19 as an official federal holiday.
Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., marks the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas.
According to the NAACP, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first written as a poem by organization leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900, and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, later composed music to accompany the words.
In a statement on its website, NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said the song “spoke to the history of the journey of African-Americans and for many Africans in the diaspora [who] struggled through to get to a place of hope.”
Williams told the AP this week that she hopes the hymn will bring a sense of celebration following her performance at last year’s 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.
Williams, the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America, told the AP that the song had allowed her to address “just the connection that you have with your child and wanting to protect them, which was definitely reflective of George Floyd and how everybody felt that pain.”
The artist said that while the July 4 show this year will not be live on the West Lawn like previous shows have been, the concert will include remote performances from places such as New York and California.
In a statement included in PBS’s press release on this year’s show, Williams said, “I am so honored to be hosting A Capitol Fourth this year.”
“I first performed on this national July 4th TV tradition in 2005, and it has always held a special place in my heart,” she added.
The show, which will air on PBS on Sunday from 8 to 9:30 p.m. ET, will also include performances from Broadway stars Cynthia Erivo, Christopher Jackson and Ali Stroker as well as from Jimmy Buffett and the National Symphony Orchestra.