JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph helped kick off Super Bowl LVII on Sunday night with a song that is known by many as the “Black national anthem.”
Ralph, the star of the comedy series “Abbott Elementary,” performed “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” in front of millions of people watching from around the world at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
“The blessings have been amazing, including this one, singing in front of millions of people,” Ralph told The Washington Post. “It’s just really neat. What an exciting time to be me!”
It was a special day for the song, which was celebrating an anniversary.
123 years ago today Lift Every Voice and Sing was performed publicly for the 1st time. Today I will sing it for the 1st time as part of the @SuperBowl pre game show in the stadium! pic.twitter.com/Mh805zQbX5— sheryl lee ralph (@thesherylralph) February 12, 2023
.@thesherylralph with an incredible rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing". #SBLVII pic.twitter.com/3iho2kTssr— NFL (@NFL) February 12, 2023
One hundred and twenty-three years before, the very first performance of the song happened on Feb. 12, 1900. The song was performed by about 500 schoolchildren at the then-segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
Jacksonville native James Weldon Johnson, who was the principal at the school, wrote the song originally as a poem. It depicts overcoming slavery and rejoicing in newfound freedom. His brother, John Rosamond added music to it years later.
The Post noted Ralph was the first person to perform the song live inside a stadium for Super Bowl Sunday. Singer Alicia Keys performed a prerecorded version that aired before the big game in 2021, while the gospel duo Mary Mary were accompanied by the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles outside of SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles last year.