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Sheryl Lee Ralph makes history performing 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' at Super Bowl

When "Abbott Elementary" star Sheryl Lee Ralph took the stage, she made Super Bowl history.

PHOENIX — Emmy-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph performed a powerful rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during the 2023 Super Bowl on Sunday and made history in the progress.

Ralph, who is one of the stars in the hit comedy series "Abbott Elementary," took the stage at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, before the championship matchup and halftime show featuring Rihanna.

Wearing a flowing red velvet gown, Ralph began the song as a reflective ballad, and it became a soaring hymn as it went on, with military-style drums joining her and a choir dressed all in white chiming in behind her.

She was joined by a choir and became the first person to perform the Black national anthem on the field before the Super Bowl.

Two years ago, Alicia Keys became the first to perform "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during the Super Bowl broadcast in a pre-recorded clip. Last year, Mary Mary sang the anthem from outside the stadium.

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What is the 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' meaning?

"Lift Every Voice and Sing" is a hymn with lyrics written by James Weldon Johnson. The hymn is also known as "The Black National Anthem."

According to the NAACP, where Johnson served as executive secretary at the time the hymn was written, the song was "prominently used as a rallying cry during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s." 

Credit: AP
Entertainer Sheryl Lee Ralph performs "Lift Every Voice", often referred to as the Black national anthem, prior to the NFL Super Bowl 57 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Johnson's brother composed the music for the hymn, which was initially written as a poem.

The organization said it was performed in public by a choir of 500 schoolchildren from the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida, where Johnson was principal. It was performed to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln's birthday. 

It became the official song of the NAACP in 1919.

MORE: What does 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' mean? 

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What are the lyrics to 'Lift Every Voice and Sing'?

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

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