Many of us are familiar with “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a poem written by James Weldon Johnson, and set to music composed by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson. It’s the official song of the NAACP, and sometimes it is known as the “Black National Anthem.” Did you know that they, and a friend Bob Cole, wrote some of the most popular songs used in Broadway shows, vaudeville, and by popular solo singers in the early 1900s? They also wrote their own songs for their act on the vaudeville circuit, and wrote and starred in their own operettas. Between 1900 and 1905, these three African-American men were the most popular songwriters in America.
This collection of sheet music by this important historic trio contains thirty-six of their songs. As you peruse the table of contents, or read through the lyrics, remember that these songs were written and performed by black men in a different time and place. The songs reflect their own time and place. Some few of the songs have been performed consistently through the years: “Under the Bamboo Tree” and “Congo Love Song” are among these. It is well worth knowing about these men, and learning some of their songs.
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