Behind The ScenesESPN MusicThe Undefeated

“It was an impactful experience to know you were walking on history”

The Undefeated’s Black History Month project puts new spin on iconic song with the help of Aloe Blacc

The Undefeated’s Black History Month project, a music video with a new, modern-day rendition of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” featuring recording artists Aloe Blacc and special guests The String Queens, debuts Sunday on

Producer Sharon Matthews (also see sidebar) talks with Front Row about the project.

How did the idea for the song and video (previewed above) come about?
[ESPN Music Director] Kevin Wilson was key in making that happen as was Raina Kelley [managing editor, The Undefeated]. It stems back to an idea that [ESPN Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief] Kevin Merida and Raina had to re-do “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” which we know as the black anthem, and bring it to a music space with more of a modern day tone to it, something that you want to tap your foot to and lift your spirit up. We got together and started to audiate around the idea. Kevin [Wilson] suggested Aloe Blacc [“Wake Me Up” with Avicci] and immediately we were like, “Yes!”

What was it like working with Aloe Blacc?
Aloe Blacc was the real MVP in this journey. He came all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast that morning. It was frigid and the first thing we shot was him in a t-shirt and he owned that like a champ. You never would have known how cold it was by looking at him. It was the type of weather when you need hand warmers, plus wrap a blanket and scarf around you – and our entire shoot that day was outside, so hats off to him. He was fantastic.

Sharon Matthews, storyteller
Features producer Sharon Matthews has two projects premiering Super Bowl Sunday. Read about her work with reporter Jen Lada and NFL stars Drew Brees and Zach Miller here.

Why was the video shot at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Va.?
Monticello is an appropriate place to tell the story of the African-American experience because it’s symbolic – as author Annette Gordon-Reed wrote, “It represents a time when we can find the absolute best and the absolute worst we have been as Americans.”

The folks at Monticello were fantastic. They are historians – and that was what made this experience so amazing for me. You were standing on historic ground. This ground that we were filming on had been walked by ancestors of the past that were enslaved. I think why I was so touched by the place was because of the shoulders we stood on. It was just an impactful experience to know that you were walking on history.

For more on ESPN’s Black History Month content plans, visit ESPN MediaZone.

Aloe Blacc, the voice on DJ Avicii’s 5M-unit selling hit single “Wake Me Up,” sings on The Undefeated’s version of “Lift Ev’ry Voice.” (Photo courtesy of Mac House Productions)
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