On Sunday, Greater New Hope Baptist Church was the site for an all-black, all-male gospel concert — as well as a brief history lesson.
The service opened with the congregation standing together to sing the first and third verses of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written by James Weldon Johnson and commonly referred to as the Black national anthem.
Some in attendance were surprised to learn that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was first written as a poem in 1900 and later set to music by Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson. In 1905, Booker T. Washington endorsed it, and in 1919, it became the official song of the NAACP.
Sam Ford, a reporter for WJLA-TV (Channel 7), led the service by telling the congregation about the history of the song. He pointed out that Booker T. Washington came to Johnson’s segregated school and they presented the poem to welcome him.
“Imagine 500 students reciting that poem,” Ford said. “If you really listen to the words, you will hear how it speaks to our past, present and future.”
The program consisted of several different groups and soloists singing songs old and new, from hymns such as “Leave it There” to contemporary hits “I Can’t Even Walk” and “Encourage Yourself,” as well as a few original songs.
Jean Austin, an Air Force veteran, co-founded the gospel recording group No Chains, consisting of friends he met during his years of service. Their strong brotherhood grew from a shared vision of how they wanted to continue serving their country operating in a different combat zone.
“Kenny Vernon and I always said that when our careers were over, we would get on God’s battlefield,” Austin said. “It’s always good to see a group of men who are not afraid to say they love the Lord.”
It is rare to see traditional families in church and even rarer to see a large group of men singing praises together, he said.
“Usually women are the ones you see in church with the kids. I hope that changes,” Austin said. “When you think about the struggles that African-American men have gone through, music was a way to channel energy and encourage themselves.”
Several women who attended the service said they were particularly glad to see men working together to create a joyful noise and affect the community.
“I hope they reach out to the younger generation — I would love to see the older guys pass it on,” said Pamela X, a native Washingtonian. “It was my first time and you don’t see a whole lot of this today. I felt a lot of pride.”