The song has gained more widespread attention after the NFL played it before all of its week 1 games.
The U.S. has two official pieces of music. The Star-Spangled Banner has been the official national anthem since 1931, while The Stars and Stripes Forever has been the official national march since 1987. There is no official national hymn, a genre of music typically noted for its religious connotations.
Sometimes nicknamed “the black national anthem,” the hymn *Lift Every Voice and Sing *gained wider fame in September 2020 when the NFL played it before each of their week 1 football games in addition to the traditional The Star-Spangled Banner. The league said in a press release that the song would be played “In an ongoing effort to recognize social justice.” The version the NFL used was pre-recorded by Alicia Keys, though the song has also been covered by everyone from Ray Charles to Beyoncé.
At the White House in 2010, President Barack Obama even sang the hymn at a White House event accompanied by the likes of Smokey Robinson and Jennifer Hudson. (The performance starts at 53 minutes into the above link, a hourlong special.)
What the bill does
A new bill would make “Lift Every Voice and Sing” the official national hymn of the United States.
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the bill elevates the song to an official status without taking away from Francis Scott Key’s anthem that Americans have come to know.
“We should have one national anthem, irrespective of whether you’re black or white,” Rep. Clyburn told USA Today. “So to give due honor and respect to the song, we ought to name it the national hymn.”
“To make it a national hymn, I think, would be an act of bringing the country together. It would say to people, ‘You aren’t singing a separate national anthem, you are singing the country’s national hymn,’” Rep. Clyburn continued. “The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”
What opponents say
GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition, likely owing to the poor optics of such a move, but the bill has not yet attracted a single Republican cosponsor.
While not opining on this bill specifically, many criticized the NFL’s decision to play the song as an empty gesture at best, and perhaps even counterproductive at worst — and may seemingly criticize this bill on the same grounds.
“The NFL actually thinks that the best way to honor victims of systemic racism is to play black America’s most sacred song before it plays a national anthem that was written by a slave owner that’s full of racist lyrics,” sportswriter Carron J. Phillips wrote for the sports website Deadspin. “Yet the man who started this entire conversation within the NFL will be at home watching, as he’s still not on a roster.”
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 40 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
According to the Senate Historical Office, six songs have previously been proposed in Congress to become an official national hymn, including such well-known tunes as America the Beautiful and God Bless America — but none of them passed. It’s possible that the current movement and climate when it comes to racial issues might turn the tide in favor of Lift Every Voice and Sing.