PBS has come under fire after its Capitol Fourth show – broadcast to US military abroad – was closed out with Vanessa Williams singing the ‘Black National Anthem’.
The singer and actress, who was the first black woman to be crowned Miss America, sang God Bless America at the start of the night and closed the annual Independence Day celebration with Lift Every Voice and Sing.
The latter song, a nod to Juneteenth being made a federal holiday, provoked an angry response from some on social media who said its inclusion at the ceremony, which aired on Sunday on PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network, was ‘woke’ and ‘divisive’.
This year, the celebration of the United States’ 245th birthday ‘pays special tribute to American military heroes and their families,’ the event’s website read.
Lift Every Voice and Sing was first written as a poem in 1900 by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson and has long held the nickname as the ‘Black National Anthem.’
‘There’s only one National Anthem that covers everyone. It doesn’t matter what color you are,’ one Twitter user wrote.
‘There’s no Black National Anthem like there are no White Anthem, Spanish, Korean, German, Italian, etc, etc. We have one that covers All Americans!,’ another commented.
Other users expressed displeasure with Williams personally, saying that she was ‘divisive’ and they were disappointed in her.
Conservatives have slammed PBS’s 41st A Capitol Fourth over the inclusion a performance of a song nicknamed the ‘Black National Anthem’ by host Vanessa Williams (pictured center)
Introducing the song, Williams dedicated the performance to her ‘ancestors, to our new federal holiday Juneteenth and to all who celebrate freedom’.
‘As I prepare to sing this next song, I am filled with the spirit of freedom and the perseverance that is required to achieve that most precious right,’ she said.
The song did not replace the US National Anthem, with Grammy Award-winning singer Renée Fleming opening the show with a special performance of the traditional tune.
Several other singers and musicians also took part in the celebration – which included a mixture of live and pre-recorded performances from the likes of Gladys Knight, Jimmy Buffet, Cynthia Erivo and Alan Jackson.
The U.S. Army band Pershing’s Own performed instrumental music as the fireworks went off over the Lincoln Memorial.
The inclusion of Lift Every Voice and Sing had already sparked controversy on social media ahead of the event.
Some users hit out at the inclusion of the song, calling it ‘divisive’ and a contradiction of efforts to create ‘unity.’
‘I view this as divisive creating a culture only caring about skin color, makes her a useful Fool for the left!’ one person tweeted.
Another person wrote: ‘If you want unity, a black national anthem doesn’t sound like it.
Williams (left) sang God Bless America at the start of the night, with Grammy Award-winning singer Renée Fleming (inset) opening the show with a special performance of the Star Spangled Banner
‘Vanessa Williams will be performing that song (whatever the hell it is) at the Capitol Fourth celebration.’
Others slammed the move as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘woke’, claiming that the inclusion of the song would ‘create racism.’
‘This is ridiculous. There is no black America. There is no ‘Black National Anthem’ as there is not a black nation,’ one person tweeted.
‘There is one nation under God. Everything this woke culture does is something to divide us. I will not be watching as you create racism.’
Others hit out at the celebration of Juneteenth on July 4 that is ‘for ALL Americans.’
‘What a farce! July 4th is for ALL Americans regardless of race. Not singing the National Anthem is discriminatory toward everyone who is NOT black,’ one person wrote.
‘July 4th is not the childish Juneteenth but the national day of celebrating our Independence.’
‘Well isn’t that cute. That will really bring country together,’ added another.
‘So every skin color & nationality should have its own national Anthem? So where do you stop?’
Juneteenth commemorates the official end of slavery in the US when the last group of enslaved African Americans learned of their freedom under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
President Joe Biden signed a bill into law two days before the celebration last month, declaring it the first Juneteenth National Independence Day.
A total of 14 House Republicans voted against the bill to make it a federal holiday with some arguing it would divide Americans based on race and have them choose between celebrating Juneteenth or July 4 – an argument some appeared to push online over Williams’ song choice.
Others questioned why Williams was not performing the US National Anthem.
‘A long time admirer of Vanessa Williams. Why not the National Anthem Vanessa?’ one person wrote.
However, other people celebrated the news of Williams singing the song, saying ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is the ‘only national anthem’ they will recognize.
‘Vanessa Williams….that’s the only national anthem I’ll acknowledge on the 4th,’ one person wrote.
‘I’m always happy to hear Vanessa Williams sing anything at all, but this I am especially looking forward to!’ added another.
Several others mocked those up in arms over the song, pointing out that it has been around for a century and that the ‘Black National Anthem’ is simply a nickname.
‘So many of my fellow white people shedding so many white tears over the ‘controversy’ of Vanessa Williams singing a song at the 4th of July shindig tomorrow…’ one person wrote.
‘You gotta love it…! So much manufactured outrage! My advice? Get over it. Seriously.’
Another person agreed, writing: ‘White people being up in arms about Vanessa Williams performing Lift Every Voice and Sing is really interesting. This song has existed as the Black National Anthem for over 100 years.
‘They really have no clue about Black culture, while we know them better than they realize.’
Another person questioned how Americans have not heard the song before: ‘Ma’am… Are you seriously trying to tell us you’ve never heard of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ aka ‘The Black National Anthem’?
‘And why are you going after Vanessa Williams? She isn’t the one who dubbed the song with this nickname.’
Meanwhile, one person posted a photo of some of the pro-Trump mob who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 in a violent riot that left five dead.
‘Actual photos of the people pissed about the Black national anthem,’ they wrote.
‘Karen would like to speak to Vanessa Williams manager.’
Alan Jackson returned from Nashville to sing a heartfelt rendition of God Bless America
Hamilton star Christopher Jackson dedicated his song to the men and women in uniform around the world keeping America safe
Fireworks: The U.S. Army band Pershing’s own performed instrumental music as the fireworks went off over the Lincoln Memorial
Moana star Auli’i Cravalho performed A Whole New World from Aladdin from Queens, New York towards the end of the special
Kermit the Frog also returned with his fiddle in hand to sing his beloved song The Rainbow Connection
Jennifer Nettles took a stroll down Broadway and delivered a message about the nation’s theaters starting to finally open up again
Gladys Knight appeared from the nation’s capitol to sing her iconic song Midnight Train to Georgia
The social media uproar comments come amid a heated debate over the treatment of U.S. history that was reignited following the murder of George Floyd.
The controversy around how the country’s past and its relation to race is playing out across schools and the military.
Much anger has been directed towards critical race theory – an academic principle that centers on the idea that U.S. institutions create and contribute to economic, social and political inequities between white people and people of colour in the country.
Republicans in more than 20 states have proposed legislation attempting to limit discussions about race in classrooms, claiming it will lead to division.
Liberals, on the other hand, support teaching of U.S. history and other subjects that is reflective of the experiences of all U.S. citizens, including those that belong to minority groups.
Last month, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley defended the study of critical race theory in the military.
He had been pressed on the matter while speaking before the House armed services committee at a defense budget hearing.
‘I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military … of being ‘woke’ or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there,’ he said.
Milley added that he believed service members should be open-minded and widely read.
Republican lawmakers had implied that teaching critical race theory at West Point might somehow weaken the military, saying concerns had been brought to them by cadets and families.
Milley rubbished the suggestion, saying: ‘I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?’
‘I want to understand white rage – and I’m white,’ he added, saying he wanted to understand what provoked thousands of people to storm the US Capitol during the January 6 riot.
First performance: Two-time Oscar nominee and Grammy winner Cynthia Erivo rocked two distinct and stylish looks with a pair of performances at A Capitol Fourth on PBS
Train: Other performers included Train, who sang overlooking the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in their hometown of San Francisco