11-year-old Londoner performs Black Anthem for Black History Month

Shanelle Twumasi performed 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' at a Black History Month event a the London Public Library this week.

Shanelle Twumasi has been singing for as long as she can remember

Shanell Twumasi learned the song, Lift Every Voice and Sing' for the Black History Month event at the London Public Library. (Submitted by Sarah Henshaw)

11-year-old Shanelle Twumasi of London, Ont., has been singing as long as she can remember,

"I always used to sing, and I guess I just really liked it," said the grade six student. "Now I participate in a lot of gigs and it's actually really fun, so I kept on doing them."

This week Twumasi performed a song long-known in the United States as the Black National Anthem for a London Public Library event marking Black History Month. 

Lift Every Voice and Sing was written as a poem by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader James Weldon Johnson and first performed in public in Jacksonville, Florida in 1899. 

Twumasi, whose father immigrated to Canada from Ghana, said her Black heritage is important to her. "He shared a lot of his backstory and how he immigrated to Canada. They used to be very poor back there. They immigrated here to get a better life," she said. 

"It is important to me because I feel the need to know all of my history and that others should, too." 

Twumasi, whose favourite artist is Whitney Houston, said sometimes as a biracial student she doesn't know how to react when her classmates have questions. "I either laugh it off because I don't really know what to say, but at times I just tell them that, like my dad is Black and my mom is white."

"She hasn't had too many obstacles," said Twumasi's mother, Sarah Henshaw. "She does come home sometimes and say everybody wants to touch her hair and she gets mad."

London Morning's Rebecca Zandbergen asked Twumasi to sing the Black Anthem during a phone interview. It brought her mother to tears.

"She literally just memorized it a couple of weeks ago for this event. I'm amazed how fast she learned it and how she mastered it so quickly, that's why I have tears," said Henshaw.

"It's amazing watching her grow and watching her voice get better each time," she said. "This girl was a gift and I'm so happy that she's able to share it and that she's okay to do it. It's pretty neat to watch her grow."

Londoner Shanelle Twumasi sang at one of the library's virtual events for Black History Month. Twumasi and her mother Sarah Henshaw tell London Morning why celebrating Black History Month is important to them. 6:04

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.



Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 15 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna.