“The Brothers Johnson: ‘Lift Every Voice’ Social Justice Through Song”

Moses Phillips, assistant professor of music at Medgar Evers College/City University of New York (CUNY), will be at Indiana University of Pennsylvania to present a program and performance about “Lift Every Voice and Sing—the Black National Anthem.”

Phillips, who teaches ethnomusicology, music theory, and cultural studies in the Mass Communications Department at CUNY, will present “The Brothers Johnson: ‘Lift Every Voice’ Social Justice Through Song" on February 8 at 3:30 p.m. in room 225 of Jane Leonard Hall.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was a hymn written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900. His brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954), composed the music for the lyrics. A choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal, first performed the song in public in Jacksonville, Florida, to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.


Moses Phillips

This interdisciplinary presentation will focus on the social, political, and philosophical meanings and lyrics of the Harlem Renaissance visionaries—James Weldon and Rosamund Johnson—and NAACP leaders.

The program, sponsored by the IUP Social Equity and Title IX Office as part of IUP’s Black History Month celebration, is free and open to the community.

Later that day, the song will be performed between the women’s and men’s basketball games at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex by the IUP Chorus, IUP Chorale, Phillips, IUP President Michael Driscoll, and IUP Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Curtis Scheib.

The women’s basketball game starts at 5:30 p.m.; the men’s basketball game starts at 7:30 p.m.

Phillips previously was director of the music department at the Harlem School of the Arts from 1999 to 2004. He was principal flute of the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, and he played flute in the Broadway productions of Sunset Boulevard, Les Misérable, Miss Saigon, Beauty and the Beast, and Phantom of the Opera.

At Lincoln Center, he substituted in the New York City Opera Orchestra, played in the Stage Band at the Metropolitan Opera, and performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra’s Children’s Educational Concerts at BAM. He was the Martin Luther King-Cesar Chavez-Rosa Parks Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan.

“It’s an honor to have Mr. Phillips come to IUP and share his musical talent and his knowledge and perspectives about this beautiful anthem,” IUP Social Equity and Title IX Office Director Elise Glenn said.

“‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’” has been a meaningful part of our culture throughout the modern struggle for freedom and equality. It is my hope that the IUP community, and especially our students, will learn from this lecture how a song became an anthem affecting culture, society, history, the arts, and human progress. Mr. Phillips, with his musical talent and deep knowledge of the roots, genesis, and continued impact of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ will inspire all who attend,” she said.

The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (of which IUP is a member) and its Social Justice Taskforce has asked all member institutions to play or perform the song prior to the National Anthem before all contests in the PSAC during the month of February (Black History Month), “in keeping with our continued efforts to support justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion,” PSAC officials said.

In 2020, the National Football League approved playing or performing the anthem before every week one NFL game.