Written by: Julie Thieman, Marketing Intern
LIFT: Contemporary Expressions of the African American Experience presents a modern response to Jacksonville’s African American Heritage. Using the original lyrics to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing as inspiration, a song written by Jacksonville natives James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson, artists Thony Aiuppy, Glendia Cooper, Ingrid Damiani, Overstreet Ducasse, Dustin Harewood, Marsha Hatcher, Hiromi Moneyhun, Princess Rashid, Chip Southworth, and Roosevelt Watson III, created original works of art that present their views on the complex history of race relations in Jacksonville and beyond.
In 1900, James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was the principal of Jacksonville’s Stanton School, the largest African American public school in the state of Florida. After writing a poem to commemorate Lincoln’s birthday, he enlisted the assistance of his brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954), to set the words to music. The result of this collaboration was the song Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, which was later adopted by the NAACP as its official anthem. James Weldon Johnson later recalled his experience writing the song, “The spirit of the poem had taken hold of me…I did not use a pen and paper. While my brother worked at his musical setting I paced back and forth, repeating the lines over and over to myself, going through all of the agony and ecstasy of creating…” This same passion for creativity can be seen the artists’ work for LIFT.
The local artists participating in LIFT aren’t the first to have used the Johnson bothers’ song as inspiration. In 1939, locally-born sculptor Augusta Savage received a commission to create a sculpture to commemorate African American contributor to song for the World’s Fair in New York. Standing approximately 16ft. tall, Savage’s sculpture, The Harp, personified the instrument, using African American youth as the strings, nestled within a sounding board that transformed into a hand and lower arm. A kneeling figure at front offered the musical score.
Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing resonates throughout the African American community today and inspired many different interpretations from the artists in this exhibition. To read more information about the exhibition or the artists please visit our exhibition page.