My initial reaction--which hasn't changed, much--was that this singer was wrong for doing what she did, but that the song, and the idea behind it, is beautiful. She was hired to sing a particular song and, while I agree with artistic expression, and really dig the version she offered, this wasn't the proper venue for it.
Given Rene Marie's penchant for blending such songs in past (see/hear below), the city probably should've taken the extra step to be sure she wasn't going to do so in this situation. It's not as though this information wasn't available...
Still, while I agree that she shouldn't've done it the way she did, I'm glad I heard her sing this (& hope I can find an mp3 of it to add to the iPod), and I will be buying some of her music.
UPDATE: 7/12/08: I found a place to hear/download not only this piece, but the whole three part composition--"Voice of My Beautiful Country" that the "Star-Spangled Banner/Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" piece is a part of... Go here to hear it, and (while it lasts, anyway) to Rene Marie's site to download it.
'Black National Anthem' brings City Council president hate mail :
Local News : The Rocky Mountain News:
Hickenlooper said in an interview that he spoke to Marie after the ceremony and that she apologized profusely.
The mayor also said that Marie told him she meant no disrespect.
"She blended the two songs together," Hickenlooper said. "She was trying to make an artistic expression of her love for the country. She did not intend to make a political statement or anything."
Marie sang the first verse of James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," also known as the "Black National Anthem," but adapted those lyrics to the tune of the "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Marie said she had no regrets. She deliberately didn't tell anybody about her song choice "because I don't think it is necessary for an artist to ask permission to express themselves artistically," she said.
"I would not change a thing," Marie said.
"You have to risk things. You have to. Otherwise, you might of well live your life by a script."
Rene Marie breaks out :
Music : The Rocky Mountain News:
Marie calls herself a "GRITS" ("a Girl Raised in the South") but no one below the Mason-Dixon Line, or anywhere else, knows what to think the first time he hears the most daring medley in her repertoire.
When she first sang it in Mississippi, every jaw in the place dropped. When she called the tune, using its short name, in early rehearsal at the recording studio, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, who came up with New Orleans-born trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, dropped his sticks and said, "I'm not playing that."
Not playing what?
Marie, who relishes the drama of the unexpected, had thought to pair the traditional white anthem Dixie with the heartbreaking meditation on lynching Strange Fruit. She brought off the collision of opposites as an ironic comment on the way the world still works.
In Mississippi, black and white audience members approached her afterward with tears in their eyes and tragic stories to tell. The same thing happened everywhere else, too. Born in controversy, Dixie/Strange Fruit became the emotional centerpiece of Marie's much- praised CD Vertigo.
Anyone shopping for symbols can find one right there, illustrating the purposes of Marie's unblinking, semiautobiographical work.
"I want to make you laugh and cry," she says. "I want you to squirm uncomfortably in your chair, think of a loved one, get angry, hang your head in shame and raise your hand in protest. . . . I want you to take that leap, make that change, turn that corner."
Hear: "Dixie/Strange Fruit" here
Another perspective on the controversy: Rene Marie’s patriotic lesson - Colorado Independent
rene marie ~ Q & A
The history behind the 'Black National Anthem' - Cleveland Lifestyles – Living, Food, Health & Fitness News from The Plain Dealer