"Well, Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing is a beautiful song that has been sung in African-American churches and other events for a very long time," Obama told the Rocky Mountain News in a telephone interview on his way to North Dakota on Thursday July 3rd. "We only have one national anthem. And so, if she was asked to sing the national anthem, she should have sung that. Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing is a beautiful song, but we have one national anthem."
But since no one apparently had the guts to express disapproval to her on the spot, Rene Marie, a native of Roanoke, VA, apparently feels blindsided by the firestorm of criticism which has erupted ever since the story broke. To compensate, she has published a statement on her website explaining her actions. She is absolutely, positively unapologetic - she doesn't even apologize for substituting her "Black National Anthem" for the Star-Spangled Banner at the last minute, justifying it as permissible via "artistic license" (although she did privately apologize to Mayor John Hickenlooper). Here's her full statement, as originally posted on her website, so that readers can understand the context as well as the content (the parts of the statement I particularly take issue with are highlighted in red):
A STATEMENT FROM RENE MARIE
Last month, I was contacted by a staff member of the Mayor’s office and was asked to sing the “Star Spangled Banner”. I knew if I sang at this event I would not be singing the standard version of this song, but would be singing my own version of it. After thinking about it for a day I called back and said I would like to sing for the event. On the day of the event I arrived and followed through on my intention to sing my version of the national anthem. When I finished singing, I returned to my place on the podium with the other participants and listened to the Mayor’s speech. When it ended, I left the podium and went home. I didn’t get that much feedback, but the responses I did get were all positive.
WERE YOU PAID FOR THIS?
No, I was not paid.
WHY DID YOU AGREE TO SING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM AND THEN NOT SING IT? WASN’T THIS DISHONEST?
I can see how it may be perceived that way. But I looked at it a different way: I am an artist. As such, if I wait until I am asked to express myself artistically, or if I must ask permission to do it, it would never get done. I knew that if I asked to do my version of the national anthem, the answer would be ‘no’. There are times, artistically speaking, when an event chooses us, a door is opened to heal ourselves and others through our artistic expression, so to speak. When that happens we can trust our instincts and walk through it or we can shrink back in fear. It is my firm belief that artists have the responsibility and privilege to walk through that door every single time it opens to them.
WHY DIDN’T YOU SIMPLY TURN DOWN THE REQUEST TO SING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM?
I viewed the invitation to be a door opened to me to sing this version of the Star Spangled Banner; that others needed to hear it as much as I needed to sing it. Also, I had sung the song successfully right in the city of Denver only 2 months earlier and received much positive response. The organizers of that event did not know I was going to sing that song, either.
WASN’T THIS JUST A SELF-CENTERED AND CALCULATED PUBLICITY STUNT?
While it’s true many artists take advantage of today’s mammoth-sized media machine, this is not the case for those artists – writers, painters, choreographers, dancers, poets, composers, musicians, singers, filmmakers, etc. – who risk so much when they courageously walk through that unpopular door, or make doors of their own through which to walk and speak out through their art about injustice, poverty, corruption, greed, nepotism, and other unpopular and uncomfortable topics. Rather than being a stunt, the ensuing publicity, many times, is an unfortunate and distracting side-effect an artist has to endure. Actually, I didn’t expect that singing the song would garner this kind of attention. After all, I had sung the exact same song at the Colorado Prayer Luncheon earlier this year before a much larger and wider audience and there wasn’t even a ripple.
BUT THIS WASN’T ABOUT ‘YOU AND YOUR ART’. THIS WAS AN EVENT FOR THE MAYOR AND THE DENVER COMMUNITY.
This is true. It was not specifically about me and my artistic expression. I agree also, that it was for the Denver community. If I may say so, I consider myself a part of that community and, as an artist in that community, wherever I am, there my art is also. It isn’t something I can set aside or ignore depending on the occasion or what the reaction might or might not be. The two cannot be separated.
WHAT KIND OF POLITICAL STATEMENT WERE YOU TRYING TO MAKE?
I wasn’t making a political statement. I am apolitical, choosing to address social issues through my art, not politics.
WEREN’T YOU PROMOTING RACISM BY SINGING THE ‘BLACK NATIONAL ANTHEM’ INSTEAD OF THE NATIONAL ANTHEM?
Nothing could be further from the truth. The song you are referring to as the Black National Anthem is correctly titled “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”. As a kid living in a segregated, southern town I grew up singing both songs. It seemed apparent to me early on that the sentiments expressed in each song are diametrically opposed to one another. The “Star Spangled Banner” spoke of ‘proudly hailing the flag’ in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’. I could see how some folks could have pride for the flag and feel free and brave and at home. But that sentiment was not a reality for black folks living in a town with Jim Crow laws, where the flag often hung from buildings they could not enter. It was not a reality for black soldiers (among them my own father) returning home and being denied their civil rights after having fought for the nation the flag represented. On the other hand, nobody but black folks found comfort in “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”, even though the lyrics focused on ‘ev’ry voice singing’ the ‘harmony of liberty’. Why was that? I loved singing both songs but each one seemed to have their own aspects of exclusivity and segregation, not by design, no. But still the separation was palpable. Could I find a way to marry the two ideologies musically by melding the two songs into one harmonic thought? That would be a helluva thing. The fear of alienating both blacks and whites by blending these two sacrosanct songs was very real. But through the door I went, not heedless of the offense that might be taken. And to complete the effort, I re-wrote the melodies to “America the Beautiful” and “My Country Tis of Thee” but retained the lyrics. I combined all these songs in a suite and named it “Voice of My Beautiful Country”. The song I sang at the Mayor’s State of the City speech is the third movement of that suite. It is a love song to my country.
YOUR ‘ARTISTIC EXPRESSION’ OFFENDED MANY PEOPLE. WHY DON’T YOU APOLOGIZE?
No one is more surprised than I am by the furor, though I believe much of it to be media-fueled. The last thing I wanted to do was cause trouble for the Mayor and so I have apologized directly to him for any distress that may have resulted from my singing. As for offending others with my music, I cannot apologize for that. It goes with the risky territory of being an artist.
SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE YOUR ACTIONS HAVE JEOPARDIZED OBAMA’S BID FOR THE PRESIDENCY
Believing that would be a serious over-estimation of my influence as an artist.
WHAT DID YOU ACCOMPLISH WITH ALL THIS?
Sometimes, the simple act of ‘doing’ is accomplishment enough.
To reiterate, the "Lift Every Voice and Sing" song is NOT the real problem. The public performance at an official event is also NOT the real problem. The problem is simple; she blindsided everyone by performing this in lieu of The Star-Spangled Banner. Since the Star-Spangled Banner is our only official national anthem, this means if you agree to sing our national anthem at a public event, you are agreeing to sing The Star-Spangled Banner and nothing else. There lies the crux of the problem. Deliberate misrepresentation. It wasn't her art that was offensive, but her ethics.
And while this ethical problem is present in all communities, it seems to have taken particular root in America's black community. Usually, it is confined to the ghettoes, as evidenced by the "Stop Snitching" campaign which discourages black ghetto residents from reporting their lawbreakers to the cops for the sake of "black solidarity". However, Rene Marie is no hood rat; she's part of the black elite, and it is particularly disturbing to see this type of thinking among the elite who either escaped the ghetto or who were never a part of it. And by replicating this thinking, the black elite encourage ghetto residents to continue wallowing in entitlement rather than striking out for empowerment.
It also promotes white backlash. I provided a sample of it in my previous post; a better example was posted on the AngryWhiteDude blog. However, the ultimate expression of white backlash is posted regularly on Stormfront and the Vanguard News Network Forum. Whites are slow to anger, but when we blow, watch out. Germany and Japan learned that lesson in World War II.