Commemorating J. Rosamund Johnson, Composer of Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

In honor of Juneteenth, New England Conservatory commemorates the spirit of liberation, resilience, and creativity of Black Americans. We recognize the many ways NEC's Black alumni community members have brought music to the world and opened the doors for others through their passion and exceptional artistry. 

One such NEC community member was J. Rosamund Johnson, a Black artist and civil rights advocate who attended NEC in 1893. Johnson composed "Lift Every Voice and Sing," widely recognized as the Black National Anthem. 

Johnson collaborated with his brother, James Weldon Johnson, a renowned poet who penned the lyrics and played a key role in founding the NAACP. The composition was crafted as a message of resilience for African Americans in the 19th century and was first performed on February 12, 1900, for Abraham Lincoln's birthday. 

Though Johnson is chiefly remembered for composing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," he also had a varied career as a pianist, songwriter, producer, soldier, singer, and actor. He was an important figure in Black music in the first part of the 20th century. While attending NEC for four semesters in 1893, Johnson studied piano with Charles F. Dennee and voice with William H. Dunham.

NEC honors the Black artists in our community—among them J. Rosamund Johnson, Thad JonesFlorence PriceCoretta Scott King, and so many more—who have contributed to an extraordinary musical legacy while recognizing the work that still lies ahead on the path toward racial equity.

Below, watch as NEC faculty members Nedelka Prescod ’12 MM and Jason Moran perform "Lift Every Voice and Sing."