Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations

by Kelly Starling Lyons

Book list In 1900, a girl learned a hymn written by her school principal, James Weldon Johnson, and she sang it as part of a 500-member choir: Lift Every Voice and Sing. She later sang it to her husband as they moved from Florida to Pennsylvania, since it was a part of her she wanted to pass on. Later, she shared it with her son through the years. Growing up, he sang it in choirs, when facing discrimination as a soldier returning from WWII, and after becoming a father. Tracing the history of Black Americans since 1900 through five generations of one family, this creative book also connects events and cultural shifts with particular lines in the song, underscoring their relevance during certain times, ending with the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. With clarity and warmth, the illustrations sensitively capture the changing characters, emotions, and eras as time passes. This well-structured, original story will resonate most intensely with readers and listeners who are familiar with this stirring hymn, but others will sense its power as well. Dovetailing nicely with the books that introduce the song itself, this moving picture book celebrates it as a symbol of faith, brilliance, resistance, and resilience. --Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Through the lens of a family handing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” down through several generations, Lyons (Hope’s Gift) delivers the history of a song that has inspired generations of African-Americans to persist and resist in the face of racism and systemic oppression. The creators start with the song’s beginnings in 1900, when it was penned by siblings James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson to commemorate President Lincoln’s birthday. In vibrant, realistic illustrations and painstaking facial detail, Mallett portrays a girl practicing, then singing—“back straight, head high,/ heart and mouth open”—at the song’s first choir performance before eventually teaching it to her son (“It was a part of her she wanted to pass on”). Bold colors lend emotion to scenes of hope and adversity as one child becomes a WWII veteran facing discrimination and subsequent generations witness other moments in history: the killing of Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights protests, and, in 2016, the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. All the while, each generation passes the lyrics along, and a final page urges readers to “keep singing... keep on keeping on.” A heartfelt history of a historic anthem. Ages 5–8. (Aug.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus "Before you were born, a girl learned a song"so begins the story of how "Lift Every Voice" takes root in a young African American girl's heart and becomes a source of fortitude for her and her descendants, who continue learning, singing, and passing the song along. Readers learn that the hymn was written by the fictional protagonist's principal, James Weldon Johnson, and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, to be sung during a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1900. As she grows and passes the song down through generations, significant events in the lives of African Americans unspool, including the Great Migration and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and culminating with the ringing of "the freedom bell" at the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Lyons writes with rhythmic warmth, weaving the lyrics into her story. Full of faith and hope, they were the foundation of the civil rights movement and continue to be a source of encouragement and pride. Mallett's artwork charmingly illumines the faces of the singers in the book, revealing their passion and often joy in singing what's become cherished as the African American national anthem. An author's note reveals that the story spread after Johnson's students took it for their own and shared it.A beautiful celebration of a song that continues to give life to African Americans. (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Book list In 1900, a girl learned a hymn written by her school principal, James Weldon Johnson, and she sang it as part of a 500-member choir: Lift Every Voice and Sing. She later sang it to her husband as they moved from Florida to Pennsylvania, since it was a part of her she wanted to pass on. Later, she shared it with her son through the years. Growing up, he sang it in choirs, when facing discrimination as a soldier returning from WWII, and after becoming a father. Tracing the history of Black Americans since 1900 through five generations of one family, this creative book also connects events and cultural shifts with particular lines in the song, underscoring their relevance during certain times, ending with the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. With clarity and warmth, the illustrations sensitively capture the changing characters, emotions, and eras as time passes. This well-structured, original story will resonate most intensely with readers and listeners who are familiar with this stirring hymn, but others will sense its power as well. Dovetailing nicely with the books that introduce the song itself, this moving picture book celebrates it as a symbol of faith, brilliance, resistance, and resilience. --Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Through the lens of a family handing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” down through several generations, Lyons (Hope’s Gift) delivers the history of a song that has inspired generations of African-Americans to persist and resist in the face of racism and systemic oppression. The creators start with the song’s beginnings in 1900, when it was penned by siblings James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson to commemorate President Lincoln’s birthday. In vibrant, realistic illustrations and painstaking facial detail, Mallett portrays a girl practicing, then singing—“back straight, head high,/ heart and mouth open”—at the song’s first choir performance before eventually teaching it to her son (“It was a part of her she wanted to pass on”). Bold colors lend emotion to scenes of hope and adversity as one child becomes a WWII veteran facing discrimination and subsequent generations witness other moments in history: the killing of Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights protests, and, in 2016, the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. All the while, each generation passes the lyrics along, and a final page urges readers to “keep singing... keep on keeping on.” A heartfelt history of a historic anthem. Ages 5–8. (Aug.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus "Before you were born, a girl learned a song"so begins the story of how "Lift Every Voice" takes root in a young African American girl's heart and becomes a source of fortitude for her and her descendants, who continue learning, singing, and passing the song along. Readers learn that the hymn was written by the fictional protagonist's principal, James Weldon Johnson, and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, to be sung during a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1900. As she grows and passes the song down through generations, significant events in the lives of African Americans unspool, including the Great Migration and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and culminating with the ringing of "the freedom bell" at the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Lyons writes with rhythmic warmth, weaving the lyrics into her story. Full of faith and hope, they were the foundation of the civil rights movement and continue to be a source of encouragement and pride. Mallett's artwork charmingly illumines the faces of the singers in the book, revealing their passion and often joy in singing what's become cherished as the African American national anthem. An author's note reveals that the story spread after Johnson's students took it for their own and shared it.A beautiful celebration of a song that continues to give life to African Americans. (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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