Obama: Singer Shouldn't Have Sung Black National Anthem

Candidate Says There's Only One National Anthem

Barack Obama said there's only one national anthem, and a Broomfield jazz performer should have sung it when she was asked to, instead of another song sometimes called the black national anthem.

Rene Marie set off a wave of criticism throughout the state and the country when she sang the words to "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" instead of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the mayor's State of the City speech this week.

Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, told the Rocky Mountain News on Thursday that "Lift Ev'ry Voice" is a beautiful song but Marie should have stuck with the national anthem.

Obama made his comments while en route to North Dakota after a campaign stop in Colorado Springs on Wednesday, the day after the singer's controversial performance.

Marie said the city and the mayor didn't know that she was going to switch out the lyrics, and she never asked permission from the mayor to sing the black national anthem.

"I realize the mayor's State of the City address was not my personal platform, I know that. But an artist tends to take advantage of situations where we can make an artistic statement, we tend to do that," Marie said. "I like knowing that my art leads to dialogue."

Mayor John Hickenlooper angrily denounced the singer's actions on Wednesday, saying "she deceived us."

"Once a year, we take all the work that all the city workforce have been working on and talk about our accomplishments and our goals for the future ... and it gets diminished and disrespected because someone is making a political statement," Hickenlooper said.

Marie said she wasn't trying to make a political statement, but at the same time, she said she wanted to express how she felt as a black woman in this country.

"I am not signing the national anthem anymore, it just doesn't represent me," Marie said. "(Growing up) I had pledged allegiance to the flag and sang those patriotic songs and there was a deeper knowing inside of me that those words didn't always apply to me because I grew up in a segregated town."

Marie has not apologized for her actions and said she has no regrets. The Broomfield jazz singer said she would sing the song again in a heartbeat, especially in light of what was happening in the country and with Obama being the first African-American major party candidate for president.

"I wanted to express how much I do love being an American. The pride I have, the hope I have for this country," Marie said. "This was my way of expressing it. There is no political message. This is a personal expression about how I feel living in this country."

Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo issued a statement condemning Hickenlooper and saying the mayor and the singer should apologize.

Hickenlooper apologized at a news conference on Wednesday, but said he had nothing to do with Marie's actions.

"I am happy to apologize to anyone who is offended and thinks that this was intended to be disrespectful of the flag or country in any way. I completely apologize," the mayor said. "If anybody has a right to be angry it is me and I guess what I feel most is deeply disappointed that this had to happen at this time, at this point, was inappropriate."

Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter criticized Marie, telling KOA radio in Denver the anthem and the American flag "represent who we are as Americans and the ability to, in many respects, to get beyond the differences."

City Council President Michael Hancock, who introduced Marie by saying she would sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," said he has been getting flooded with hate e-mails and nasty phone calls from people who think he was in on her plan.

"A lot of people felt like because I introduced her and because I am African American and I introduced her, that I was behind having her there, was behind having her sing this song. And that is painful because that calls into question my character and that I had some motive to derail or hurt the mayor or administration and that couldn't be further from the truth," Hancock said.

He said most people at the ceremony seemed confused when Marie was signing different lyrics, but that everyone assumed she would start singing the traditional lyrics.

"While I am standing there I was thinking to myself, 'She is going to turn the corner and start signing the national anthem at some point.' And when she didn't, that was a little unnerving for me," Hancock said.

"What we do from this point forward is that we hopefully recognize as Americans that we have a national anthem and that Ms. Marie took artistic liberties that she should not have and we move on. I hope we can move on beyond this," Hancock said.

"Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1899 to commemorate President Lincoln's action freeing slaves. The lyrics include, "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."

"The Negro National Anthem is very sacred to African Americans. I grew up knowing that song, singing it at African American events, MLK marade, NAACP events ... It says something about our heritage, the history of African Americans, and to the pain and the triumphs and opportunities and challenges in our country. It is important song and is sacred to me. But as an African American I can tell you it was inappropriate for her to sing it. That is not what she was asked to do," Hancock said.