Vanessa William is poised to lift her voice and sing the “Black National Anthem” while hosting PBS’s 41st annual “A Capitol Fourth” celebration, which airs Sunday (July 4).
According to The Hill, the talented actress and vocalist, who became the first Black Miss America, will perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in honor of Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration of African American heritage and culture that was recently recognized as a federal holiday.
On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned the Civil War had ended, and that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed them almost two years prior.
“It’s in celebration of the wonderful opportunity that we now have to celebrate Juneteenth,” Williams tells The Associated Press. “So we are reflective of the times.”
Williams tells the news outlet she hopes the song will bring a sense of celebration to the nation. It comes after she performed in 2020 at the 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, according to The Hill.
“Lift Every and Sing” was originally written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1900, and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, later composed music to accompany the lyrics. The song became a critical part of history and the NAACP used it as a rallying call during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the organization’s website.
“A Capitol Fourth” is set to air July 4th on PBS. While this year’s celebration will be done remotely due to the pandemic, the show is prerecorded and will include several remote performances. The celebration is scheduled to have a live fireworks display.