“The Black National Anthem” Experience By N.C. Trumpet Musician Al Strong (Videos)

February 19, 2021

A rich and elaborate 8-minute odyssey, “LEVAS” is a tribute to the Black American experience and a love offering from an artist dedicated to the preservation of Black culture.

The Story Of “LEVAS”

“LEVAS” is trumpet musician Al Strong’s heartfelt arrangement of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the classic hymn also known as the “Negro National Anthem.”

A rich and elaborate 8-minute odyssey, “LEVAS” is a tribute to the Black American experience and a love offering from an artist dedicated to the preservation of Black culture.


The inspiration for this undertaking came in early 2020 during a performance by the Al Strong Quartet at Saint Augustine University’s annual CIAA Jazz Brunch.

Strong began to superimpose the anthem’s melody over a vamp at the end of an original tune. The band immediately went with the vibe and an arrangement was born.

Realizing the quintet was playing the “Negro National Anthem,” the audience rose to their feet confirming that this interpretation of LEVAS has a special place within the culture.

A month later, the quintet was granted a new opportunity to premiere a more polished version of the arrangement for the Chapel-Hill, NC Chapter of the NAACP.

Without fail, the audience rose to their feet and paid homage to the classic and the ancestors who made certain freedoms possible for Black Americans. Strong later went to the studio and began scoring the arrangement, adding a string section for a distinct sound.

As the year went on, Strong’s passion for “LEVAS” was further ignited after the tragic killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the countless calamities of 2020.

An only child who spent some years bouncing from shelter to shelter with his father, Strong knows all too well the struggle of Black Americans.

Yet it is the optimism of “Lift Every Voice and Sing’s” lyrics – [“Out from the gloomy past/‘Til now we stand at last/Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”] — that fuels this unique interpretation.

It is in the spirit of hope and triumphs that we present to you, “LEVAS.”

Al Strong is an award-winning trumpet player, composer, recording artist, and educator. A native of Washington, D.C., Strong is a graduate of the renowned Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts and holds a B.A. in Jazz Studies from North Carolina Central University and a Master’s in Jazz Performance / Pedagogy from Northern Illinois University.

A cultural innovator, he is the co-founder of the Art of Cool Project, which spawned the original Art of Cool Music Festival in Durham, N.C., and the Art of Cool youth summer camp.

Strong is lauded for his distinctive original music and jazz classics, which have garnered him national and international attention.

Photo credit; 1) Al Strong. 2) Lift Every Voice and Sing. 3. Lift Every Voice and Sing.


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