Regardless life circumstances, music is a common denominator. With a few notes, one can be moved to tears or transported back to their childhood. By eliciting these visceral and emotional responses, music is the ultimate form of therapy and reflection.
Music has often been influenced by members of the Black community. Under the horrific conditions of slavery, spirituals were sung among slaves while laboring to offer emotional support to one another. In the 1920s and 30s, Jazz and Blues’ dynamic sounds offered an escape from the harsh realities of racism while giving Black voices a platform.
Again, Black musicians helped mold modern Rock n’ Roll. Even now, modern Hip-Hop involves tackling ongoing social issues with style.
On Feb. 10, CSU Bakersfield’s Black Faculty and Staff Association hosted singer-songwriter Jarret Johnson as he spoke about his relationship to music and the healing power it possesses. Facilitated by Bre Evans-Santiago, Department Chair of Teacher Education, the meeting began with a video featuring Jonhson’s Grammy-nominated rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.
The song, often referred to as the “Black National Anthem”, was accompanied by video footage of Johnson singing. Coupled with this were images from Civil Rights marches of the 1960s and Black Lives Matter protests which have taken place recently.
The song and video calls on Americans to continue making strides forward. Johnson reflected on the project stating that he felt compelled to create it to call attention to the Black community’s past and present struggles.
“History needs to be told with all of the scars of this country … this is an opportunity to acknowledge a very necessary part of the fabric of this country and if we don’t, I believe we are continuing to live in ignorance,” Johnson said.
Evans-Santiago spoke about the ways in which music can strengthen bonds between communities, while educating others on the rich history of the Black community in the face of adversity.
“Tonight is about how music connects us and can heal us, as well as help us express, teach, and learn,” Evans-Santiago stated.
The need for open communication sparked Jonhson’s revitalization of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Although Johnson states that he had never envisioned himself as a figure in social justice, his newfound exposure form the video has expanded his understanding of music and its ability to reach others.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would fall into social activism at this type of level, but now I feel even more compelled to use my voice,” Johnson said.
Many attendees noted in a poll that they had never before heard “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, which stands out as a reminder that progress requires education.
“Learning the history behind that song (Lift Every Voice and Sing) was interesting to me because it made me realize how little is taught about Black history,” Caitlin Livingston, a psychology major at CSUB, said.
While healing can be a long journey, Johnson’s work seeks to help the process along by connecting to each listener.