Jill Scott’s remixed national anthem goes viral after performance at Essence Festival

Jill Scott belting into a microphone on a stand while wearing a black button-down shirt and silver pants.
Jill Scott performed her rewritten “Star-Spangled Banner” at the 2023 Essence Festival at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans in July.
(Amy Harris / Invision / Associated Press)

Fans often ask R&B singer and actor Jill Scott why she doesn’t sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events.

The reason: She knows a completely different anthem would leave her lips, Scott told an audience during a March show in her hometown of Philadelphia.

The anthem she’s referring to is one that she wrote as a teenager living in north Philadelphia, a biting critique of racial inequality in America. And after more than 30 years, she performed her rewrite while touring this year. The neo-soul icon gave the highest-profile performance of the anthem so far Saturday at Day 2 of the 2023 Essence Fest in New Orleans. In front of a packed Caesars Superdome audience — where the festival celebrating Black artists and Black women has taken place since 1994 and has drawn crowds of nearly half a million — Scott belted out her remixed anthem. She received ovations and applause from the arena and gained buzz across social media.


‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is likely racist and definitely a terrible song. Let’s replace it with this landmark 1970s soul hymn to fellowship.

July 14, 2020

“Oh say, can you see, by the blood in the streets,” Scott began a cappella to the tune of the original anthem, but she slowed its cadence, letting each word reverberate through the arena. “That this place doesn’t smile on you, colored child.”

The song ends with the gut punch of a revised closing line, replacing the words written by amateur poet and slave owner Francis Scott Key, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” with “This is not the land of the free but the home of the slaves.”

“In total tears of the power of this truth,” @MariePurnell5 wrote on Twitter, responding to a clip of the song.

User @forthecomments1 declared Scott’s rendition the new “Black American National anthem!!”

Essence, the lifestyle magazine that hosts the festival, agreed, writing on its Twitter account, “Everyone please rise for the only National Anthem we will be recognizing from this day forward. Jill Scott, we thank you!”

In 1931, Congress passed a bill to make “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem of the United States.

Sept. 6, 2016

Decades after writing the new-look anthem at age 19, the 51-year-old Scott has been performing the anthem this year throughout her belated tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her 2000 platinum album, “Who Is Jill Scott? Words & Sounds Vol. 1.” Her performances of the work have served as a lead-in to her song “Watching Me,” and slowly started to make waves online as early as April.


Performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” became a formality at sporting events in the late 1940s after World War II when NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden required them before kickoff at games. In recent years, however, American patriotic figures and symbols such as the “Star Spangled Banner” have come under scrutiny in recent years amid movements for racial justice after the police killings of Michael Brown in 2014 and George Floyd in 2020.

Some have homed in on the song’s little-known third verse, which historians have said includes a line that disparages enslaved Black people. Others have noted Key’s slave-owning past, with a crowd in 2020 tearing down his statue at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

In anticipation of a Chargers opponent’s sitting out the national anthem Thursday night in San Diego, a spirited if unfocused debate raged from sea to shining sea.

Sept. 1, 2016

Even so, generating any friction against the tune can prove costly and controversial. NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick famously sat, then knelt during the national anthem while a member of the San Francisco 49ers as a protest against police brutality against Black people. His protests, which gained national attention and widespread scrutiny, started in 2016. After the 2016 season, Kaepernick became a free agent and remained without a team as multiple franchises refused to sign him. The former Super Bowl QB hasn’t played a game since. During following seasons, however, more players joined the protests for Black lives, kneeling during anthems.

Scott, who wrote her anthem in the early 1990s, isn’t the first artist to rearrange the “Star-Spangled Banner” with a critical message. Jimi Hendrix famously did so at the Woodstock festival in 1969, which many consider to be a criticism of the Vietnam War. Hendrix’s version was an instrumental masterpiece, but Scott is perhaps the most visible vocalist to rewrite the anthem’s lyrics to reflect a more honest telling of America’s history of racism toward Black people. And observers online took notice of the inherent risks of Scott’s rendition.

“Don’t jump me, but Jill Scott is openly Black as f— and doesn’t downplay it even slightly for any audiences,” @il0vetotour wrote on Twitter. “Seeing a Black woman from Philly use the National Anthem to call out what the country is, in a sold out arena is not something i take lightly. that’s a risk and she [doesn’t give a f—].”

The National Football League admits it was wrong about player protests. It needs to follow those words with action by ensuring that one of its 32 teams puts Colin Kaepernick on its roster.

June 16, 2020

After performing her anthem at Essence Fest, Scott spoke out against the use of the word “b—” and called on people to say “sistahs.” She also called out the lack of visibility of Black female artists and people in the media, then emphatically declared, “But we in here, ain’t we!” Other high-profile acts, such as Lauryn Hill, Ludacris, T.I., Lil Jon, Missy Elliott, Megan Thee Stallion and Tems also performed at the festival. Vice President Kamala Harris also attended the festival as a panelist.


It’s not clear what prompted Scott to bring out her 32-year-old national anthem during recent shows. But in March at her Philadelphia concert, Scott said she hoped her rendition of the anthem wouldn’t divide people, and spoke of some of her choices in writing the lyrics.

“When I sing ‘home of the slave,’ that is not intended to divide, because division is not what we need,” Scott said to the Met audience. “When I say that, we are in a place that makes us slaves to consumerism, it makes us slaves to social media, makes us slaves to b— lies that don’t make no kind of sense, but we follow the stories like suckas, like slaves, to whatever kinds of negativity that doesn’t benefit us as a people, as a culture nor as a society.”

Here are the full lyrics to Scott’s rewritten portion of the national anthem:

“Oh say can you see by the blood in the streets / That this place doesn’t smile on you colored child / Whose blood built this land with sweat and their hands / But we’ll die in this place and your memory erased / Oh say, does this truth hold any weight / This is not the land of the free, but the home of the slaves!”