Photo taken by Curtis McDowell.
On a night where the NBA will highlight historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Clark Atlanta University will set the tone for a memorable evening.
In a press release, the NBA announced, “Throughout the night, the league will pay tribute to the vital role of HBCUs through music, content and storytelling.”
The 2021 NBA All-Star Game will be held in Atlanta at State Farm Arena on March 7, 2021, and CAU’s Philharmonic Society Choir will kick off the festivities by singing a special rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Roland Carter and written by CAU alumnus James Weldon Johnson.
Due to COVID-19, the three-day All-Star weekend has been condensed into a one-night event that will include the Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest, Dunk Contest and All-Star Game. This international event will feature some of the world’s biggest basketball players.
Despite the pandemic, the choral music director of CAU’s Philharmonic Society - Curtis Powell - was able to gather a few students in the Atlanta area to record the rendition of the song for the event. This was his first time hearing his students sing since March 2020.
“Although most people of color are familiar with the song, there are going to be millions of people that will hear it that never heard the song before,” Powell said. “People around the world that have never been exposed to HBCUs, been exposed to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ they are going to want to join and be a part of that history.”
When CAU’s performance airs, Powell believes it will spark a new demographic of people to research the lyrics and tunes to become familiar with the anthem.
For his students, the moment isn’t too big for them either, describing how they have prepared for the star-studded event.
“It’s like we’ve been preparing for it our whole lives,” said Feryn Rolling, who has been singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” since she was 5.
“We’ve been preparing for this moment from our first day of learning [the song],” Daryl Fletcher Jr. said. “When I feel the music, I feel it.”
The CAU choir has sung the Black national anthem at a plethora of events, such as CAU’s convocation, baccalaureate, graduation, and church services. Through all the immense experience, students feel they have no choice but to be prepared.
“[The Black national anthem] is a staple,” Mya Pierce said. “The NBA performance will make it more well-known.”
CAU choir’s rendition of the Black national anthem is more unique than others due to the ties both Carter and Johnson have with CAU.
“Not only did our alum, James Weldon Johnson, of Atlanta University write the song, but also Dr. Roland Carter, [CAU] gave him his doctorate at Clark Atlanta University.” Justin Dickerson said. “So, there is a special connection we have with Dr. Roland Carter.”
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was created in 1899, and 120 years later, it is still a powerful song for Blacks in America.
“It’s just that soul that carries out throughout Black history, and it’s going to carry out until the end,” Fletcher Jr. said.
“The way the musicality coincides with the poetry and the lyrics; every time I hear it, I want to break out in tears,” Tanese Banks said.
Behind the scenes of the production of the CAU's
Photo taken by Curtis McDowell.
“The poetry behind it. It tells the story of our ancestors,” Rolling said.
The song illustrates the story of triumph, endurance and perseverance for Blacks in America. When the song is heard and sung, students feel they gain a new level of appreciation, admiration and insight of the song.
The world will get a chance to experience the timeless piece on a night recognizing the NBA’s finest.
This story has been originally published in Clark Atlanta University's student newspaper - the Panther. For inquiries, email James McJunkins: firstname.lastname@example.org