Anthem (2023) - full transcript

It centers on Kris Bowers and Dahi as they venture out on a musical journey across the U.S. experimenting to reimagine the National Anthem.

And now,
here's Carnation's own contented couple,

- George and Gracie.

Thank you.
Thank you very much.

Gracie and I will be back again
two weeks from tonight.

- Say goodnight, Gracie.

Good night.

This concludes another day of service.

And now, ladies and gentlemen,
our national anthem.

And the rocket's red glare

The bombs bursting in air

In New York's Central Park,

over a million citizens take time,
as they do in similar gatherings

across the face of the continent,
to restate their allegiance

on I Am An American Day.

I believe that this nation
should commit itself

to achieving the goal,
before this decade is out,

of landing a man on the Moon
and returning him safely to the Earth.

That's one small step for man,

one giant leap for mankind.

An informed patriotism is what we want.

A love of country
and an appreciation of its institutions.


"Being American
is more than a pride we inherit

It's the past we step into
and how we repair it"

And the rocket's red glare

The bombs bursting in air

Gave proof through the night

"We've seen a force that would
shatter our nation rather than share it"

You will not replace us!

"History has its eyes on us

"We've learned that quiet
isn't always peace

"We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be

"A country that is bruised, but whole
benevolent, but bold

"Fierce and free

"We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation"


Part of what makes this country special

is that we respect people's rights
to have a different opinion

and to make different decisions about

how they want to express their concerns.

This anthem is our one tradition
we all share as Americans.

It represents our flag,
our flag represents our country,

and our country represents the men
and women that fight to keep it free.

I understand it's supposed
to honor the country,

but here's what people forget
about the national anthem.

It ain't original.

It's based off a British song.

172 years ago,
a Washington lawyer, Francis Scott Key,

who was being detained
by the British in Baltimore Harbor,

looked across these waters
and saw Old Glory still flying

after long hours of British bombardment
of Fort McHenry.

He was inspired to write a poem set
to the music of an old English song.

That don't even make no sense.

Imagine that. Imagine whoopin' another
country's ass, getting your freedom,

and then to celebrate your freedom
you write a freedom song

based on a song of
the country's ass you just whooped?

Patriotism is a film.
Let's not forget that.

Patriotism ain't no one song.

If you want more people
to stand for the anthem,

change the song.

Maybe start with all the film stuff.

Do you have a set order
for how those are gonna play?

Yeah, it'll be Green Book,

King Richard, When They See Us,
and Bridgerton.

Okay. Cool.

Thank you.

- How does it look?
Really good.

- Yeah?
- I like this lighting better.

Yeah? Okay.

Because I do like the idea
of people being able to see you.

I think that they're here to see you.

...the artistic director here.

And it's great to see you all.

How you doing, Kris?

- This is going to be beautiful.

Thanks. I'm looking forward to it.

Incredible, watching the sound check.

Oh, thank you.

Go ahead.

Kris Bowers is our great artist tonight.

Someone with an extraordinary sort of
résumé in film and television scoring.

Bridgerton, Green Book, Respect.

There's dozens, dozens more.

He's one of the great young pianists
of our time right now.

So please give a warm welcome
to Kris Bowers.

Go, team.

I started playing piano when I was four.

Once I was able to learn how
to improvise and express myself,

especially, I think,
being a young Black boy,

all of the sudden, the piano
became this vehicle for me.

If I was angry or sad or, you know,

any of these other feelings,
I could play from that place on piano

and kind of find a way
to move through those feelings.

And so, part of my process
when I first get a film

is I read through the script
or I watch the film.

I watch it a bunch of times.

And I find a place
that just emotionally moves me.

And then, once I find that moment,

I then go to the piano

and just try to improvise
around that feeling,

seeking some sort of truth.

I think that when you first
came to me with this project,

I was primarily focused on

how globally influential
the music that was created

on American soil has been.

And yet, the piece of music
that we choose

to represent us doesn't sound like that.

And so, I immediately felt
incredibly curious

about the symbolic importance
of the anthem for so many people.

Is there any way to synthesize that
into a piece of music

with the effort of making this feel
as inclusive as possible?

Thinking of this task, it only made
sense to travel through the country,

and meet musicians
that can teach us about

these other genres that originated here.

How's that? Can you hear me?

There we go.
- Yup.

I think, on this road trip, we have to
kind of like, you know, soak it in.

The more I'm thinking about it, the more

I'm getting excited about
what it would mean

to create a new anthem
for America today.

What is the American sound?
What is the American voice?

And sort of translating
that into lyrics in a song.

I think it would be good to have

whomever we're able to get as a producer
weigh in on that,

just talking about what
we're looking for

when we go on this trip and everything.

So, on the producer side,
we've been talking a lot about DJ Dahi.

I guess he's produced
some of Drake's stuff.

Yeah, he's a friend, too.

He's super versatile.
The thing I love about Dahi is he's...

You would classify him
as hip-hop producer, but he's like...

He grew up listening to rock music

just as much, if not more than hip-hop,

and so, like, the sound
of his production is really unique.

He's also one of the greatest producers
when it comes to like textures,

things like that, sampling something

and making it sound like something else.

I've known him for a while, so I think
he'd be down to help in some way.

When you create music,
you just have to know

it has to connect to people.

Co-production, I think, is really dope.
And you just got to be open, you know?

I mean, the song
is the most important thing.

It's not about me or the other person.

It's about the song.

I don't care about what I'm making
being the biggest song.

If it happens, it's great,

but I just wanna make something that's,
like, some type of emotional pull.

Because a lot of times
when you're making a song,

you're really making
a song for the future.

My dad is from the Ivory Coast
in West Africa.

He moved here to have a better life

and there was more opportunity.

Seeing him hustling

was kind of like the first time
I really understood,

"Oh, yeah, America is a place
that people want to come to grow."

He was determined to create
a better life for himself

and a better space for his family.

And now that I'm in that position,

I am worried about where
the world will be

when my son is able to kind of
make decisions on his own.

Sometimes you have to take a challenge
just to see what you can do,

so when Kris told me about the project,

I was like, "Yo, I'm game, man."

- My brother.
- How you feeling?

- What's good, man?
- Not much.

- Yeah. Welcome to the spot, man.
- Man.

So, man, what's up
with this road trip, man?

How are you feeling about it?

I'm excited, to be honest.
A little nervous.

There's so much about
being a kid from LA.

This is what I know.

Know what I'm saying?
Either I'm in LA or I'm in New York.

But, in general, like, I haven't
really been kind of in the heart...

of the country, know what I'm saying?

So this is definitely a dream
for me in that sense,

and just learning about the history
of music in this country and...

Yeah, man.
Just excited to learn, you know.

- That's the main thing.
- Yeah, totally.

An anthem is a song that is designed

to create a sense of unity,

or a sense of identity.

And so, it provides a way
for a lot of different people

to all connect to kind of a master story
or a master narrative about a country.

Quite often, national anthems
grow from militarism

and are used repeatedly
within militaristic activities.

In the case of The Star-Spangled Banner,

Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics
after witnessing the attack on Baltimore

by British ships in the War of 1812.

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson,
the president, signs a bill

making The Star-Spangled Banner
the official anthem of the US Military.

And the rocket's red glare

This is the first time
in American history

that people regularly stand
for the anthem as a sign of respect.

Part of the concern
in the performance of the anthem is that

if you do anything outside of the box,

anything outside of the composition
as it exists in the popular imagination,

it is seen as an affront.

It is seen as a protest.

So, José Feliciano, for example,

performed a more folksy
version of the song,

one that sounded very much
like the period

in which it was performed
and released, which was 1968.

...early light

What so proudly we hailed

At the twilight's last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars

Through the perilous...

For him,
it was a sincere expression,

but it struck people,
particularly veterans,

who were throwing their shoes
at their television sets

and lighting up the television network
switchboards with complaints.

Were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket's red glare

The bombs bursting in air

I wonder,
when I think about this version,

like, who didn't like this song?

- Yeah.
- That's what I be thinking about.

- To me, it sounds beautiful.
- Yeah.

But in my head, I'm more thinking,

somebody out there was like,

"I don't like the way
it sounds this way."

- Yeah, for sure.
- Yeah.

Even if we have clear intentions
with what we're trying to do,

the risk, it's really in how
we might be perceived,

given where our country is

and how quick people are to find
some sort of way to weaponize anything

that can be made
into a political statement.

Even if we're just doing it
for the music,

it's very easy for that
to be twisted and misconstrued.

I had visions of, like, protests.

I had visions of people,
like, just upset.

The mindfulness
that attends to an exercise

like the creation of an anthem,

would necessarily have to be

multilingual, multi-genre.

It's not meant to be the same song
two weeks from now as it is today.

And that type of malleable object is one

that might have
a chance of being inclusive.

It's challenging. On one hand,

you have to overcome
the weight of history

that's behind The Star-Spangled Banner.

We have 200 years
of historical weight behind it.

If I were to give advice

to artists on how to craft
a new national anthem,

I would say good luck.
That's not a job I would ever want.

I think it's an impossible task.

And I think
that it is going to be exceedingly hard

in this country
to create one unifying narrative

or one unifying song.


To create a new anthem for America
is beyond, like, one person.

Okay, close it.

All right. Thank you.

To be honest, I don't even think
of myself as the voice of this song.

It can transcend different people.

The experience of an immigrant,
or the experience of death,

the experience of growth,

these are all rooted in the human
experience at the end of the day.

If we want a piece of music
that represents a large group of people,

then we can't have
a singular person writing that.

We've got to try to pick up
some people off the trip

and bring them back to LA
and work on this new song.

And so, I feel like that we need
to have as many perspectives as possible

in our writing of this song
and to be able

to acknowledge those experiences.

There is a city
with a worldwide reputation

for making automobiles.


Motor City, Motown.

We're saluting the record company
that really put Detroit on the map.

Not all over the country,
but all over the world.

There it is.

Motown Records.

Most of the people in Detroit know
that this is a place they can come

and try to break
into the music industry.

You take something
out of the Black heart

out of the Black spirit,
out of the Black consciousness,

develop it, package it
and put it on the market in America

and make everybody like it,
whether they be Black or white.

Seven times you misled me

Fourteen reasons to stay

Twenty-one times just tried to love you

Got me going insane now, yeah

Ooh, boy

I'm crazy about your smile

Got me living on a butterfly cloud

It's crazy, it's driving me wild

Got me open, no, wide open

Superfly, you're so fine

Boy, I need all of your love

You make me feel so fine

So fly

You make me feel so fly

So fly

You make me feel so fly

So fly

You're amazing

So fine

Play it, fellows. Yeah.

So fine

Yes, sir.

One of the main reasons
we gathered everyone here

is really to give
Dahi and I a lesson, essentially.

Our goal and aim is to write
a new piece of music

that can be considered a new
national anthem

or something that's more representative
of our country today.

As a part of that journey
we're traveling through the country

to connect with different
musicians in different towns

and talk about the music
from those areas.

And so, you know, being here,
we wanted to just speak with all of you

about the Detroit sound

and what you all might be able to impart
to us as we go on this journey.

To make the anthem completely inclusive?

Hats off.

We haven't done it yet, so...


That's challenging.

How do you guys choose the things
that are dictating your choice of sound?

You don't really.

It just comes out. It's organic.

So you start playing,
and suddenly it's like, you might do...

Or you might do...


Right. Once I know his pattern,

I'm like,
"What can I lay in there with that?"

Once I hear what he's doing...
You don't want to do too much.

You wanna know what to put in.

We have to listen
to what's going on,

to make sure that you're not disruptive.

And you've got to be supportive.
Sometimes, it's your turn to play.

- Sometimes it's your turn to shut up.

And remembering that
it's all a conversation.

In order for somebody to speak,
somebody has to be silent.

Or for their point
to be made, right? So...

So we're doing almost like a horn.

'Cause I wouldn't want to do
what he's doing.

- But that's gonna influence

what we decide to do.

And it's emphasizing certain
parts of the rhythm and all that stuff?

How old were you
when you started singing?

Oh, my God. My first actual
live performance, I was four.

I sang for the opening
of a grocery store.

And I was only supposed
to sing one song.

And they were clapping so good,

I just looked at the band leader
and said, "Play Chain of Fools!"

It was over.

At four?

It's all about the feel.

If you don't have the feel,
you don't have it, period.


In a lot of ways, you know early on.

My dad brought
Jimi Hendrix into the house


It was over after that for me, you know.

Once I saw that, I just went...

"Whatever that is, I want to be that.
I want to be a part of that."

I was listening
to that Woodstock album.

And I listened to it
over and over and over again.

And I just couldn't believe that

he could make the sound of bombs.

It was just like "Whoa."

All of this coming from one man
and his instrument.

This man was in the 101st Airborne,

so when you write
your nasty letters in...

- Nasty letters? Why?
- When you mention the national anthem

and talk about playing it
in any unorthodox way,

you immediately get a guaranteed
percentage of hate mail from people

- saying, "How dare anyone--"
- Listen, it's not unorthodox.

- It isn't unorthodox?
- No.

I thought it was beautiful.
But then, there you go.

What was the controversy
about the national anthem

and the way you played it?

I don't know. All I did was play it.

I'm American, so I played it.

I used to have to sing it at school.
They made me sing it at school.

It's a flashback, you know.
I don't know why the bother.

I remember it being a lot
of controversy at that time.

I do remember things on the news,

how certain people thought
it was really disrespectful.

As a kid, I didn't really know that much
about the song at that time.

I only knew that in school,

you were supposed to do certain things.

And I did notice that certain people,
like my parents, maybe, even,

maybe wouldn't stand up on occasion.

I'm a little kid. I was more embarrassed
about it than anything.

"I don't understand why you're..."

"We'll explain it to you at some point."

This time for us
as Black people was terrible.

Detroit exploded
on the night of July 23rd.

The city was ablaze in the riot area

with trembling fingers of flame
lighting the black sky.

The crack of snipers' rifles continue
as morning comes to Detroit.

Paratroopers ordered to the nation's
fifth-largest city by President Johnson

are in armored vans rumbling through
riot-torn sections of Detroit.

Utter chaos is one way
to describe the devastation

in Detroit's inner city area.

Because we're all Americans, you know.
We're all Americans, aren't we?

When it was written, then it was played
in a very beautiful,

what they call beautiful state,
you know.

It was nice and inspiring.
Your heart throbs,

and you say, "Great! I'm American!"

Nowadays, when we play it,
we don't play it to take away

this greatness that America
was supposed to have.

We play it the way
the air is in America today.

The air is slightly static, isn't it?

For those people who may think
you're not being very patriotic,

all I can say is,

unless you are in somebody's shoes,

you'll never understand
what it feels like.

We love our country,
and we love the people in our country.

But does our country love us?

That's the question I ask other people.

And not just Black people nowadays.


Do you guys have any advice
for me and Dahi

as we continue on with this journey?

To find out about this project at all,
I was like,

to rewrite the anthem,
that's a huge undertaking.

But you got my vote.

Whatever you do with it. Yeah.

An important part of that
is going to be rhythm.

And then, melodically,

give 'em a reason to want to sing.

Even if they can't hold a note.

Give 'em a reason to sing.

Yeah, I like that.
That's true.

Make 'em feel something.

Hit the soul.

- Yeah. For sure.

A lot of what Paul said

stuck with me.
When he was talking about...

to be able to feel something first

and then giving them something
to sing along to.

- I don't know,

I think about when you're in a bar
when any of those songs comes on,

and, like, the whole bar
is just, like, singing.

It doesn't really matter about, like,

pitch or anything like that.
It's just this communal feeling.

Something in there
feels interesting to me.

I think,
as Black artists in this country,

our greatest currency is culture.

Motown's success and how popular it was

is very similar to
what happened with hip-hop,

where it came from a certain community,

and from there, it kind of grew outside
and became popular.

It became pop music, you know.

I think it's interesting that

most of the most notable versions
of the anthem that we talk about

are artists of color.

And I feel like that's because
most of those artists

were finding a way
to express the feeling

of their experience in this country

through their version of the song.

Their arrangements carried
a complexity to them,

from both the dark and light

of their experience in this country.

I'm gonna let the groove out.

Do it!

Well, I feel so bad

I feel like a ballgame on a rainy day

Here we go!

Well, I feel so bad

I feel like a ballgame on a rainy day

Since my baby left me

I shake my head and walk away

Let's get on out of here!

Oh, yeah!

Good, man.

Since my baby left me

I shake my head and walk away

- Congregation, can I get an "amen"?

So, the lyrics
you just made up, just now...

That's made-up stuff.
The groove and everything.


Well, that's a Little Milton stuff

and plus my own stuff,
and it's just a groove.

You throw it out there.

Yeah, the call and response
aspect of what just happened

reminds me of, like,

That's what I was thinking.
- Yes! It's the same thing.

This music that you hear in the churches
is blues music with another name.

- Gospel.

The blues expresses a deep humanity.

Blues, to me, is for everybody.

It's automatic, man. It's like magic.


And that's where the music is
in this country today.

That blues is the foundation of it.

You take that out from under it,
you ain't got nothing.

You know, that kind of, like,
leads us into

a lot of what we're trying
to figure out here

with, you know,
Dahi and I on this journey

of thinking of a song
that can be more representative

of the American sound,

especially since I didn't know until
shortly before starting this project

that the actual music from the anthem
is British music,

from a gentlemen's club in England,
like in the 1700s.

I did not know that.
- Yeah.

So I get this really American feeling
and... it's totally phony.

Yeah. I love the national anthem.

You know, it's just what it represents
to me, which is...

I love my country.

But, you know, in Mississippi,

there was a controversy over our flag.

Well, I loved our flag.

Because it was our Mississippi flag,
you know?

Well, then I got to talking to my
my buddy, who's Black,

and he said,
"You know, that symbol there,

"I don't like it."

Because people have used it
in a really negative way.

Eden, it's tough.

There was something on these flags,
both of them.

The Confederate flag
and American flag, too.

The older Black people,
they didn't like neither one.

If you was in the South,
you wasn't free at all.

Well, I didn't realize our flag
was hurting somebody's feelings,

because it made me feel like,

"My home, Mississippi."
I love Mississippi.

So when they came up
to vote for the new flag,

we got rid of that other one,
and now we've got a new flag.

I grew to very much dislike
the old Mississippi flag.

That's why, now if I see it,
I think, "Oh, God."

I mean, I make these assumptions

about what kind of person must live
in that house to fly that flag.

You know, maybe I shouldn't do that,
but it's hard not to

because symbols mean something.

You got all kinds of people, man.

Some peoples don't even want to change.


Now, we brothers.

Sister. We all the same.

We all the same to a certain extent.

Because you play piano.

I play harmonica.

Well, that makes no difference
right there.

Music bring people together.

It does.

Not just playing the blues.

It's in any kind of music.

Because the music today in America
is off the blues tree.

That's one of them limbs
off the blues tree.

That's all it is.

The blues, it'll never die.

We're just passing it on.

Passing the torch.

What I really appreciated
about the people here

was that it just felt
like a real community.

Like, everybody had,
like, something real to say.

And everybody respected
what everybody had to say.

It's also gonna be
interesting to think of how

to represent these different feelings

that I feel like have come up
in a lot of these conversations.

For this song to start the process
of change, is in conflict.

It would have a totally
different meaning

if everybody was kumbaya
and holding hands.

For me, I like to kind of live
a little bit in the danger zone.

That's my process
and how I make my music.

For me, it's just, "How is this
gonna cut through the noise?"

at the end of the day.

I feel like, in general,

Americans are capable of the change
that Eden experienced,

but we need help.

We are in the heart
of America now.


I've never driven through this part
of the country before.


We wish.

We're shooting a documentary.

- We're shooting a documentary.

About music.

We're traveling the country
and we're just going to different places

and listen to their music
and enjoy and learn about it.

We're learning about country here.

- Yeah, yeah.
- Yeah.

- I know.

Most definitely.

I got a lot to learn, brother.

Country music is American.

It started here. It's ours.

It isn't something that we learned
from some other nation,

it isn't something that we inherited.

And so, it's as native
as anything American we can find.

It comes
from the heart of America.

It talks about family,
it talks about religion,

the faith in God
that is so important to our country.

And, as we all know,

country music radiates
a love of this nation.


Today, the peace of the world

for generations,
maybe centuries to come,

will depend on our love of our country,

our willingness to not
only wear the flag,

but first stand up for the flag,
and country music does that.

Country music
came out of a need to tell stories.

And it's about real stories,
and it's about honesty.

It's about being willing to express

the greatest truths

and the greatest struggles.

To me,
that's what country music is about,

is just really putting your feelings
out there

and maybe somebody will connect with it.

The old
country stuff, it feels like blues.

It feels like honesty, it feels like,
maybe it's a weird way to say it,

but, like, white people's soul.

It came from their home,
it came from their struggle.

How comfortable do you feel like
country audiences are

comfortable with change?

Country music is music,
but it also is country culture.

It's culture.

And so, I don't know that...

culture is just ready to change always.

There's a lot of misconceptions about
the origins of country music.

There's this idea
baked in to country music

that it was started in Appalachia,

which is not entirely true.

And there's this idea that there
were no Black people in Appalachia,

which is also not true.

The banjo is an instrument that was

forced to the United States
on slave ships

in the minds of people from West Africa.

The banjo was a plantation instrument.

And we're still experiencing
the ripples of that today.

How would you define
the sound of the country voice,

and, like, just the overall
aesthetic or tone,

like, how would you define that?

I think it's anything you want it to be.

And I think that's something
that music gives us the creativity,

or it gives us the freedom
to have that creativity to use it

however we want it.

But I think I grew up
with so much gospel music,

so much old-school country music,

and I think all of that
really helped shape my voice.

It's interesting.

I'm sitting here, in my head I'm like,
"Gospel, say gospel.

"I know it's gospel."

The first time you opened your mouth,
I said, "That's a gospel singer."

What is it that made you hear that?
If you could articulate it.

The wail. The wail in her voice.

The wail.

There, you know... There was a truth,

but there was a belt that feels like...

Like God to me.

Ooh, ooh.

Gospel music is gospel music

because the foundation is in God.

In a lot of traditional
country music loving households,

there is God.

Now, what kind of God, whose God,
those are all up for discussion.

But I believe that
that is the foundation of that.

It's the melting pot.

Meetings of those sounds, like--

So, looking at a song
like The Star-Spangled Banner...

Would you like to sing it for us?


This is gonna be the first time
I've ever sang this sitting down.


Like, I feel like I need
to be on my feet.

Oh, say can you see

By the dawn's early light

What so proudly we hailed

At the twilight's last gleaming

I grew up in a family
with a lot of military.

My grandfather was in the Navy, most of
his brothers were also in the Navy.

My dad was
in the United States Marine Corps.

So to me, I can't listen
to the national anthem

without thinking about countless people
over the years who died for that.

And the rocket's red glare

The bombs bursting in air

I know that a lot of people
don't see it that way,

but coming from a fairly
military-based family,

I would say that that's what it
brings home to me, you know?

Oh, say, does that star-spangled

Banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free

And the home of the brave

That was beautiful.


The thing I loved
about Charity's version

of the anthem was how much

you could feel her pride for her family
in the way that she sang it.

It felt like she was singing
to her father,

or to her family members
that have served

in a way that was really beautiful
to witness.

It became this really special moment.

But it definitely made me think about

how her family might perceive
what it is that we're doing.

And it made me even more concerned
about this project.

We can't replace the anthem

because there are just millions
of people that love this song.

There are millions of people
that do feel

like this song is representing them
and our country,

and we can't change that,

because then they won't feel
like they're heard.

In talking about a new version
of the song,

do you think it's even possible
that we can create a song

that has multiple identities

that everybody would feel comfortable
singing and be like...

I don't think so.
- You think...

I think you always offend somebody,

no matter what side of the fence
you're on.

- Not everybody likes...
- I'd love it if you could.

I think there's a difference
between made for and accepted by.

I do think there could be a song
made for/with everyone in mind.

I think we can try
and I think we should try

because things have to progress.

It has to.

Country music is about stories.

There's such truth in it.

There is pain.

There is history.

What brought me to country music was
just the raw honesty of songwriting

and raw emotion that country music
brings to the table.

Maybe we were born here,

but our families' origins
are all over the place, you know?

I think America boils down
to the values that you have

and the way you treat
other people a lot of times.

And I think if we could focus
on partly that, maybe, in the song,

I think it'd be maybe well taken.

I would hope so.

I'd hope people would at least
be willing to listen.

In my head, it's funny 'cause
I have this idea of the American Dream.

It is the story of just,
like, prosperity.

And as we were traveling
we started to understand

that it's not really a dream.

It's, like, the struggle
to get to the dream.

And country is American struggle music.

It's very similar to hip-hop,

where it's rooted in, like, kind of
hard stories, know what I'm saying?

Trying to prosper here
or trying to make something of yourself.

Or just having bad days
and trying to find ways to cope.

I always found it interesting
that country music is talking about

these really sad, vulnerable things

and telling these really
intimate stories.


I would assume that,
for the most part,

a lot of people that love country music

might have a problem with the idea
of reconsidering the anthem

or taking a deeper look
at ourselves as a country.

But yet...

they're attracted to music
that is doing that on a personal level.

Yeah. Yep.

Music is what really brings
people together.

And I think a lot of places
don't really realize that.


Like, that doesn't really happen
unless you're in a community

where music is ingrained
in the DNA of the culture.

Like, I think about
a place like New Orleans...

I would imagine it's probably harder
not to be affected by the music here.


It seems like everybody
gravitates toward it so early

because that's so much
a part of the culture.

Yeah. All right.


So, as you can tell by that,
it's not a complicated music,

but it's conceptual music,
that's got some

things that ain't in other cultures,
you know?

If you could speak a bit more
to where these rhythms came from

before they were here, you know.

We had the biggest port!

We had the biggest port.

Everybody came through here.

I mean, you know,
they credit Ellis Island

with a lot of the European stuff
that came through there.

But all the other nations
came through New Orleans.

The French, the Spanish,
the Filipinos, the Mexicans.

You know, Cuba, Santo Domingo,
that's where his family came from.

And all those people became a culture.


For me, the music that's closest
to my heart is jazz,

because that's what I've been doing
since I was eight years old.

The folklore behind jazz is that
it came from trying to make music

that multiple cultures can dance to.

And it came from this combination
of cultures in New Orleans.

You know,
we gotta grow as a community,

and this music is from the community,
that's what I say.

All of those cultures became a culture.

That's why
they call us The Gumbo.

There you go. That's right.

That's right. You're right.
You're exactly right.

What do you think of what
that sound would need to be today?

'Cause, like, what we're tasked with is

writing a piece of music
that can be considered a new anthem

or feel like it's more
representative of the cultures

that have come together,
that are here now.

What we'd probably do is the same thing

as when we play Happy Birthday
for someone.

We don't play, "Happy...

We put the second line on.

Can you talk about where
the second line tradition comes from

and the tradition of the parades
and all of that?

The tradition of music
at funerals is widespread.

A dirge is performed on the way

to the final resting place
of the deceased.

We strike up,

what we consider a lively number,

to make the people forget
their griefs and their sorrows,

and take their minds off
of what had just happened.

What about you, Glen?

Do you have any advice for us as
we are off to work on this new anthem?

What would you wanna hear in that?

Mmm. Truth.

- Truth?
- Yeah, yeah, yeah. The truth.

- Truth.
- That's it.

I just saw the thing about,

"PBS has sparked backlash
over a decision

"to have Vanessa Williams perform
the Black national anthem

"during its 4th of July coverage,

"with critics blasting the move
as un-American."

Oh. Wow.

So what's the Asian national anthem?

What's the Native American
national anthem?

What's the Latino national anthem?

Hell, I didn't know what
the white national anthem is

because I don't think that way.

If you're gonna do the "separate
but equal" segregation bullshit,

at least do it all. Go all in. Commit.

This isn't unity. It's stupid.

You know,
I think about the amount of things

that people get up in arms about

when they haven't even
looked at it deeply.

Like the amount of people
that are upset about a movie,

and they only saw the trailer.

The amount of people that are upset
about critical race theory

and don't know what it is.

I think that any American that is trying

to deny the history of our country

is only fooling themselves.

America... America needs therapy, man.

I think we actually need
to talk about these things,

because, you know, we're just gonna
keep doing the same things

over and over and over.

It's also gonna be an issue to think of,
like, the shape of the song

and how to, like, represent these people
that are wanting to recognize trauma

or the difficulty
of how this country started.

It's kind of like the New Orleans
second line thing,

like, that joy and celebration
is kind of not really, like, earned,

unless everything else has been
at least looked at

or talked about
or unearthed or dealt with.

They're not celebrating in the second
line to forget the pain.

It's more so that they're trying
to move that pain in a different way,

but the pain is always there.

I do think there's something
we can take from the second line

and try to find a way
to take that same approach

to our piece of music, to our anthem.

I really do think this song
should be a form of therapy.

In 1830, there was a law passed

to get rid of all the tribes

east of the Mississippi
to the west of the Mississippi.

We were brought over here
on the Trail of Tears.

Brought all the way to Oklahoma

and that became our tribal grounds.

We saw that the purest thing
was the sun.

When we meet at our ceremonial grounds,

we stay awake all night.

We dance in a circle.

In that circle, you learn things.
You're on a journey.

You're born...

You're married...


And as you get older,
you come back to that day

because as an old person,
you're like a little child again.

You have to be taken care of.

That's when you get ready
to pass on to that next world.

Once that sun comes up, we quit.



It means "Thank you."

These songs were invented
on the Trail of Tears.

If we were to lose that,

then we lose who we are as a people.

We pass this on to our young people,

so, in the future,
maybe 50, 60, 100 years from now,

they'll still be singing
what we're singing.


Because this is our home,
the United States of America.

Well, we don't call it that,
but it's where we're from.

When you say you don't call it that,
what do you call it?


That's a joke.


I think one of the first questions
I have is just,

knowing the little bit that I do
about the Trail of Tears

and how, you know, so many different...

tribes were pushed into the same space,

if you all could maybe speak
to the music

from some of those different cultures,

and how those things are
different and similar.

Yes, I like to think
of the Trail of Tears

as also the trail of American music.

From the South.

Muskogee people share music,
share instruments, they also dance.

And all the elements that characterized
blues and jazz

are in our Stomp Dance.

You've got call and response.

You have syncopation.


You know, it's all there.

And we've been left out
of the American story of music.

How do you think that happened,

that it's been left out that way?

Well, to recognize
that the whole North America

and even into the South America
is indigenous country

really kind of messes

with the American Dream story.

There will not be
a healthy, whole person in a country,

and I think a country is like a person,

until all of the stories are told,
until it is recognized

that America has indigenous roots.

Yeah, it's like the foundation of it.

In our travels, me and Kris,
we've been realizing

symbols are important to people,

and sometimes
people think of symbols as personal

without thinking about everybody else.

Are there things from your culture

that you feel are like symbols
of your community?

Well, just like the songs
we sang a while ago.


Our families brought those songs over
in Trail of Tears

and that's what kept them going.

I mean, if they wouldn't have had that,

they would've never made it.

Today, we have prayer songs,

you know, and songs for healing,

songs for death, songs for birth.

This ties us all back
into that strength,

that power of that circle

that we dance in the fire.
There's your symbol.

Yeah, that's
what I was gonna say.

The fire in the center
and the circle spiraling out,

that's the biggest power
you could ever find.


But it's a circle that moves.

You know, and it connects...

It goes out in concentric circles
and connects every...

A circle never ends.

These songs make us united.


Looking at how
to create a piece of music

that can be more representative
of our country,

I was wondering
what you all think of that idea.

You don't have winners and losers
in a circle.

If we're gonna get anywhere, we need
a song that says, okay, here we are.

And this country,
this land, is beautiful.

We're part of this land.
We're not separate from this land.

And yet here we are all together.

If we heard all...
The stories are so individual.

You know, they're not
this homogenized overculture version

that is hurting everybody.

Then we would see the humanity.

Then we would understand
our absolute connection to the earth.

And then we would understand,

"Yes, why not a song
that would bring people together?"

Our tribes, all tribes,
we don't have a word for goodbye.

- Wow.
- It's always, "We'll see you again."

And the way we say it is...

"Again, we're going to see each other,"

and that's what this song is saying.

Of all the places we've gone,
this felt like a source.

- Yeah.
- You know what I'm saying?

It felt like...

I don't know, it just felt like home.

It felt like this is where
we needed to...

Everything started to make sense.

Yeah, definitely.

It just felt like church, man.

It felt like real, you know...
Like I'm talking to my ancestor.

I'm talking to my, you know, folks
in my past, talking to my kids,

and that's where it felt like
the Holy Ghost. Know what I'm saying?

Which is in what
I've grown up in church,

that's just a something
that nobody still can explain.

It's like a feeling.

I can imagine, like,
being at one of those ceremonies...


...with, like, 100 or hundreds
of people, like, in that circle.

Has to be such a cathartic...
I mean, like you said, church.

It's, like, such a cathartic experience.


Even the whole idea about,
like, the circle,

I'm starting to really see
the importance of positive symbols, man,

that everybody can understand
and get, man.

I think, shows what this song can be.

I think it just has to feel intentional,

and gotta have, like, a simple message,
you know what I'm saying?

Yeah, something universal.

It's kind of cool
to end this road trip

in a place like Bay Area

that is deeply rooted
in not only Latin American music,

but also activism.

Big business,
big government know full well

that a society divided on race
is easier to control

than a society divided
along class lines.

And would like to remind them

that however powerful
and however strong they may be,

that if we, the farm workers,
did not till the soil

and plant the seed and harvest the food,
they would not be able to eat.

That's all.

That would be...
That's nice.

Yeah, can you imagine, like,
having a national anthem

with little kids could sing it
every morning in class that was like...

Get your day started good.

So, you all are on the end
of this epic-ass trip, huh?

It's been good.

It's been interesting conversations
and, like...

We're excited to talk to you about,
I think, your background, specifically.

It's so exciting given how much,

like, your family comes from,
you know, music,

but also, just like, how much
you've been involved in activism

from such a young age,

and how that just naturally found a way
in your art as well.

Yeah, I mean, I think
that it's just totally useless

to have any type of platform,

and to not speak on issues
that are affecting your communities.


And, you know,
I just try and express solidarity

with all the struggles,
the anti-border movement.

I'm very proud of my children

that they are conscious
of the same things that we were

conscious of because
these things are not new.

But these are different times,

and I think that younger artists
have as big an influence, you know.

You know, we all have
our distinct cultural backgrounds,

but coming together
and kind of understanding our ability

to reflect so many different faces
in the Bay Area,

it's really empowering.

And that's why, when thinking about it,

it's really difficult to think about,
like, a national anthem

because there's so many
different identities

within one nation state, right?

Like, what we consider the nation.

So, it's really like,

how can you universalize

the experience of being an American?

How can you even say that
there is one way to understand it,

or to represent it through music even,

but through anything, you know.

Yeah, for sure.

I think that making an anthem

that's not contingent
on defining yourself within a border

or keeping people out, right?

It's about being together
and creating a better world.

That's what I find inspiring in a song.

That's what I would like to see.

You know,
connection to humanity, basically.

- And recognizing the unrecognized.


Cecilia's perspective is so vital
to the unspoken of this country.

From folks who got here undocumented,

those who have children
who are undocumented here

to the labor that people
don't talk about,

the undocumented labor.

Especially, like,
on the lyrical side,

like, I feel like it's only
going to bring

the important context
to the conversation.


Because, you know,
I think, oftentimes

if there's a song
that speaks to a number of people

that are feeling a certain way,

that feeling of being seen
is what catalyzes some sort of movement.

That's why the conversations we had
in each of these cities

were so illuminating.

I feel excited to, like,
start getting into the room

and, like, filter all these feelings
and thoughts

into the music, you know.

You know, I think the idea of it

was just initially kind of,
seemed just big.

It's just like, you're making
a new national anthem,

which is, like, kind of crazy, but...

The biggest thing
that I took from the trip is

just make the music feel emotional.

At the heart of it,
it just has to connect.

- Mmm.

I think the only thing
I have with that...

The only thing I hear...

How do you make something that
sounds like you've been through shit?

But it's not so much, like, sad.

It's almost like
I'm kind of digging through something.

There's light in the tunnel,
but we're still moving through it?

Yes, exactly. Exactly.

I kept thinking about the Muscogee tribe

and, like, listening to
their kind of spiritual hymns.

There's something about what they did

that felt kind of a bridge
to Negro spirituals.

It is kind of cool.

- It feels a little kumbaya-ish...
- Mmm-hmm.

...which I'm fine with that feeling,
but I'm thinking, too, if it...

That feeling, it's like...

Hold it.

- That's dope.
- Yeah.


- Yep.
- Yeah.

It feels like everybody could feel good
about singing.

- That's what it makes me feel like.
- Yeah. Yeah, totally.

Emotionally, we were coming up

with some really good progressions
and chords

that I think can inspire,
like, some really profound lyrics.

And I think
the lyrics is going to really be

the forefront of the song.

At that point,
I think the important thing

was for us to have
as many voices in that room

from as diverse a background as possible

to create something that felt like

it was at least doing its best
to acknowledge those experiences.

We decided to form this writers' room,

comprised of people
that we met along this journey.

Hey, y'all, it's Ruby.

Hey, Ruby.
Hey, Ruby.

I have to be on audio,

but please enjoy
this very dated photo of me in yellow.

We talked about Ruby Amanfu
because, you know,

Ruby is one of the greatest songwriters
of our time

and also has an incredibly
unique experience as an American,

being an immigrant from Africa,
living in a place like Nashville.

Hey, yo. So, I'm Charity.

You can probably guess
what kind of music I sing. I grew up...

And then Charity Bowden
has a purity about her

and this connection to country music
that felt important to have

in this writers' room as well.

Has everybody else
met each other already?

I haven't met you. I'm Charity.

Okay, yeah, I'm Joy Harjo.

I am a poet, writer, musician.

Joy Harjo is the first Native
American U.S. poet laureate.

And she felt like an incredibly
important voice to have in this room,

so we can make sure that the people

that were here before
this country was founded,

make sure that voice was felt
in the song as well.

Hey, everybody, my name is Cecilia,
my artist name is La Doña...

And then Cecilia is
an incredible Bay Area artist,

and her roots in not only
Latin American music, but also activism

felt incredibly important
to have in this room.

In building an anthem, we need something

- that connects people...

...everybody, all the voices.

- There's challenges.
- Yes.

- And everybody has a story.
- Yup.

But we are here together.

We are making a story field.

There's a lot of tension in this, too,

and I think we definitely
need to find a way to write the tension.

I think it might be useful
if we can each write our own verses

of what we hear for it.

And then once we have
a lot of that written material,

then maybe we could hash out the ending.

That sounds good. Yeah, for sure.

Okay, here we go.

I'm gonna just write down a bunch
of different lines and see if it works.

"Our people traveled long ago,
we made a home on stolen land.

"I claim a country that never
claimed me.

"I am America."

Claim a country that might not claim us.

We are America.

We claim a country
that doesn't see us.

- A country that...

...does not see us.

It's not,
"Look at our beautiful struggle.

Now we're strong."
It's like, "No, we're this way

"because of the horrible conditions..."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
-"...that we're exposed to."

For me, something that's special
about this project

is really decentralizing
the archetypical American voice.

- So, it's just about the nuanced way...
- Yeah.

...that we want to talk
about white supremacy.

Yeah, right. Yeah.

Instead of just being like,
"This sucks and this sucks.

"We don't know what to do,
but it all sucks."

Sometimes, the grass is definitely
greener on the other side of the fence.

Yeah. Or there should be no fence,
and we should all have grass.

For me,
just thinking as a storyteller,

the key thing is making sure...

it's, like, validating
everybody's voices,

but making sure that the tone of it

is more hopeful
than critical of America.

I don't know. I hear your comments,

but it's hard as somebody
who, like, is 98% critique of America

and 2% positive,

that's hard for me
to, like, totally get behind.

Like, "it needs to be 75% positive"
'cause I just don't feel that way.

I don't think you should
bash it, though.

Like, it's fine to critique it,
but isn't the point of an anthem

to be uplifting?

Like, that's your point of view,

but my point of view is that
I've been raised here my entire life

and I realize that
it's absolutely not perfect,

and we have a long way to go.

I don't have the answers
for us to get there,

but I'll never say anything terrible
about my country.

I'll never say that I hate it here.
I'll never disrespect this country.

It's hard to do that if I'm constantly
disrespected by the "country."

It's hard for me to have
that same buy-in

'cause I don't have
the same respect from the "country."

I'd like those two truths
to be able to sit next to each other,

- as difficult as it may be.

What's so powerful about this idea

is the notion of allowing them
to sit in an authentic way in a song,

and then having a resolution
toward this bridge,

coming together despite the pain

and despite the discomfort

But also,
I feel we're talking about the idea

of being solution-oriented.

What will we do to change it
as opposed to what needs to be changed?

Action oriented.
- Yeah.

That would feel empowering

if it's like talking about
what we're going to do.

So, for me,
it feels like an anthem

would be more so
to mobilize and organize people

towards a different future,

because where we're at
is obviously not working.

This is how
we can make it work for everybody.

Right. You know,
we're right up against

environmental crisis,

and how do we deal with this?

We have to come together.

Ultimately, this is the Earth,
and we are of the earth.

We are the land.

I feel like, thematically,
the bridge can do something,

I think, musically
to help bring all these things together.

I think it'll flow really well.

I was thinking
of some even spoken word.

I wrote these little lines of prayer
in Muskogee, it's...

"With our praise to the breathmaker

"by whose grace we arrive here,
and whose grace we leave."

I mean, you can kind of go out
in the spoken word.

Love that!

- Beautiful.
- Beautiful.

Let's get some vocals down.

- Yeah.

We are born of the finest earth

We are America

We are America


If you could play almost like
more call and response.

Can you add a bit more distortion?

We want to try to get, like,
a Hendrix-style of electric guitar.

This is not...
This is all for us?

This is all for this?

We don't need an anthem

that tries to pretend
we are not the country that we are,

but one that actually
speaks to our aspirations

and tries to unify us
around the idea of,

if we desire it and work together,

we can become the country
that we wish to be.

Maybe there's a song
that actually speaks to us today

in a way that The Star-Spangled Banner
maybe doesn't for some.

It could replace it,

but it will be people
who start using the song,

I think, that make the difference.

It won't be an act of the legislature
that changes the song.

It'll be people's practice.
It'll be what we sing

and the stories we want
to tell about ourselves

that dictate what our songs are.

We need to come together
and collectivize and perform together.

I believe that singing together
absolutely changes the energy

of any given space,
of any given community,

and so those efforts are never in vain.

But we are so diverse,
we are so different,

I think we need many anthems.

Hi, Kris!
Y'all look good.

- Yeah.
- Welcome back. How are you doing?

Good. How are you?
- Good to see you.

How you guys feeling today,

especially having that much time
working on the song together,

and now, like,
how do you guys feel about it?

There's a lot of pressure with it,
you know,

and it's exciting
'cause it's like such an honor

to be asked to be part of such a thing.

But I had someone tell me,

and it was someone who I considered him
somewhat like a mentor,

and he was like,
"Who are you to do that?"


And I was like,
"I think that's the point."

- Exactly.
- I'm no one to be doing this.

I'm no one. I am your average gal.

And just because I don't, on paper,
look like I should be doing it,

that's more of a reason
why I should be a part of it.

Doing this project,

I think
it's actually really important for us

to be in these rooms
where it's kind of uncomfortable

or where you don't seem
like you're supposed to be there,

I think that's something
I've really started to think about.

- That story needs to be told.
Yeah, that's the point.

You know,
this country will not find itself

- until everyone's voice has a place.
Yes, that's right.

Completely agree.

Sometimes we create bubbles
within our own communities.

And we don't cross the line.

So I think that this was an experience
to help me cross the line

and want to continue to cross that line.

To me, the conversation
is more important than the song.

I'm just excited to see how it lives,
how it touches people,

then I would just love to dive into,
"Where do we go from here?"

Are you glad
that you chose to do this,

to go on this journey?

Yeah, I mean,
I'm definitely glad that...

I chose to be on the journey.

I think that there's a "dot, dot, dot"
that is, you know,

the reaction and any of that,

but I'm standing for, like,
curiosity and learning

and open dialogue,

and I think that
that's what the song stands for.

I feel happy that I did it,
dot, dot, dot.

We are born of the finest earth

Fed by the clearest waters

We walked through tears
in the darkest of nights

We are America

A man of ebony

With a grandchild on his knee

It's not long ago
that they were not free

They are America

Our Native land

We all stand together

Our changing earth demands

That we do better

We rise above and look ahead

Come take my hand

We lead each other through it all

We are America

Some arrived here long ago

Dreams to live and seeds to sow

Still, there's a borderland in me

I am America

They were brave when they were called

Some were forced to stand for cause

All gave some, but some gave all

They are America

Our Native land

We all stand together

Our changing Earth demands

That we do better

We rise above and look ahead

Come take my hand

We'll lead each other through it all

We are America

We rise above and look ahead

Come take my hand

We'll lead each other through it all

We are America

We are America

Congratulations, everybody.

Oh, man. Thank you all so much.
Thank you again for being here.

Thank you for being a part of this.
Let's have a round of applause.

- Oh, man. Yeah.
Thank you, guys.

We did it.
We did.

Thank you, bro. Appreciate it.

Thank you.

All right.

I'm so excited...

Hats off.

You sing well, man.
Yeah, thank you.

Appreciate it.

Music brings people together.

It does.

This ties us all back into that
strength, that power of that circle.

One, two, one, two, three, four.

We're just passing it on.
Passing the torch.