Williams 'takes a knee' in anthem protest

Pharrell Williams.
Pharrell Williams.

NEW YORK • Singer and producer Pharrell Williams is the latest entertainer to show solidarity with National Football League (NFL) players protesting United States President Donald Trump's call to fire players who refuse to stand during the national anthem.

At a charity show on Sunday in Charlottesville, Virginia, where violent demonstrations took place in August, Williams said: "I'm in Virginia right now, I'm home. Can't nobody tell me what to do if I want to get on my knees right now." He then dropped onto both knees.

His display follows a wave of demonstrations across the country on Sunday as NFL players knelt or locked arms during the national anthem in defiance of Mr Trump. The "Take a Knee" protest has now grown beyond the sporting world, and entertainers and performers are joining in.

The symbolic action began in August last year, when Colin Kaepernick, then the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

Mr Trump stirred up the issue anew by saying in a speech last Friday and then in a series of tweets over the weekend that players who do not stand during the anthem should be fired.

In Charlottesville, Williams paused between songs to say: "For the people of my city, for the people of my state, that's what that flag is for. When I think about the potential of this country and the potential of this state, potential of these people, potential of this amazing university, there is only one word that I feel on the inside."

The artist then began singing his 2013 Grammy-winning hit Happy.

Other performers have joined the "Take a Knee" demonstration. At the Global Citizen Festival in New York on Saturday, Stevie Wonder knelt on stage and said, "Tonight, I'm taking a knee for America. But not just one knee. I'm taking both knees."

He made the gesture again the following night, at the same Charlottesville show where Williams was performing. Wonder was on stage with the Dave Matthews Band when he took to two knees. Matthews joined him in the stance.

The rapper known as Posdnuos, from hip-hop group De La Soul, took to one knee at the Life Is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas on Sunday. Actor and singer John Legend posted a picture on Instagram of him performing the gesture during a show in Hamburg, Germany. In Tennessee, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder got one on knee at the Pilgrimage Festival.

Eight principal cast members of the Broadway show 1984, a theatrical adaptation of the George Orwell novel, got down on one knee at the curtain call of Sunday's matinee.

Reached by phone on Monday, actress Olivia Wilde, who plays Julia in the show, said: "We felt passionately that this is what we wanted to do. We had no idea how the audience would react, but we felt that even if people booed, it would be worth it."

At football games on Sunday, two singers knelt during their performances of the national anthem. In Nashville, The Voice runner-up Meghan Linsey and her accompanying guitarist took to one knee after she finished singing the anthem. In Detroit, singer Rico Lavelle got on one knee at the word "brave".

Hip-hop artist J. Cole said on Twitter on Sunday that fans should be boycotting the NFL. "God bless every player that finds courage to kneel today," he wrote, adding: "But the real power comes from you deciding to not watch."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Williams 'takes a knee' in anthem protest'. Subscribe