In 2008, vocalist Rene Marie changed up “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Denver City Hall performance by singing the song’s melody and interpolating James Weldon Johnson’s lyrics for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often dubbed “The Black National Anthem.” Marie had no idea that her interpretation would touch off a media firestorm that even compelled then-candidate Barack Obama to comment on the issue. The furor helped inspire the singer’s latest album, Voice of My Beautiful Country, which includes a studio version of Marie’s anthem mash-up; a a spare-but-simmering rhythm section backs the singer as she puts across her message with artful intensity and nuance. Reminding listeners that it’s no disservice to acknowledge America as both a promise and a problematic reality, “Lift Every Voice and Sing/The Star Spangled Banner” serves as a fitting testament to the long-running double-consciousness of the black experience in the land of freedom.


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