JOHNSON, J. ROSAMUND

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JOHNSON, J. ROSAMUND - The Composer of the “Negro National Anthem,” Lift Every Voice and Sing, Mentions his Enduring Work
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JOHNSON, J. ROSAMUND - The Composer of the “Negro National Anthem,” Lift Every Voice and Sing, Mentions his Enduring Work

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JOHNSON, J. ROSAMUND. (1873-1954). American composer best remembered for Lift Every Voice and Sing, popularly known as the “Negro National Anthem.” DS. (“J. Rosamund Johnson”). 2pp. (recto and verso). 4to. N.p., circa April 27, 1943-May 13, 1943. The ACA-ASCAP survey for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” filled in and signed by Johnson, who identifies the work as a “(National Anthem)” and provides details on its orchestration, publication and copyright.

 

Trained at the New England Conservatory, Johnson came to prominence as a composer during the Harlem Renaissance. In 1900, he set to music “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a poem composed by his brother James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), a lawyer, writer and civil rights activist, whose authorship Johnson credits on our survey. First performed at a Jacksonville, Florida, birthday celebration for Abraham Lincoln to honor Booker T. Washington, the song grew in popularity, and was dubbed “the Negro National Anthem” by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) in 1919. “Black communities across the Jim Crow South were… embracing the soaring, aspirational lyrics of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ -- otherwise known as the Negro National Anthem -- which was sung in churches, at civic events and even in schools, where substituting the song for The Star Spangled Banner was a quiet act of rebellion against the racist status quo… ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ became what the Princeton University scholar Imani Perry describes as a tale ‘of endurance, lament and supplication’ that acknowledges the cruelties of racism while also pointing toward transcendence,’” (“Colin Kaepernick and the Legacy of the Negro National Anthem,” The New York Times, Staples).

 

ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, was founded by composer Victor Herbert in 1914 in order to protect composers’ copyrights and collect royalties for use. The American Composers Alliance (ACA) was founded by Aaron Copland and other composers in 1937 in order to promote contemporary classical music. Johnson was one of six black founding ASCAP members, but this did not make him immune to “unfortunate incidents of racism, such as a swank ASCAP dinner party in 1930 that J. Rosamond Johnson and other black composers from both the popular and serious camps were not allowed to attend because of their skin color,” (“J. Rosamond Johnson,” All Music.com, Chadbourne).

 

Our document lists the publisher and copyright holder as Edward B. Marks. On the verso, stamped dates reflect the dates the survey was sent to the composer (April 27, 1943) and the date it was returned (May 13, 1943).

 

In addition to his work as a composer, Johnson originated the role of Frazier in the premier of Porgy and Bess and compiled several volumes of Negro spirituals and folksongs.

 

Folded with several pencil notations in an unidentified hand. In very good condition and rare!

 

Item #20346 


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