Meaning of “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo
“Stand Up” can be considered the primary original song from the soundtrack to Harriet, the 2019 film in which the multi-talented Cynthia Erivo takes on the role of Harriet Tubman. The late Harriett Tubman stands as an iconic figure from the days of American slavery, in which she was most famously involved in the running of the Underground Railroad.
That was a secret network of routes and safehouses, in which slaves from the South were transported to freedom up North, where slavery wasn’t practiced per se.
So the lyrics, with Erivo personifying the character of Tubman, seem to speak specifically to that endeavor. In the first verse, the vocalist is depicted as a heavy-burdened and defensive woman, one who is fighting for a cause, which is ‘doing what she can while she can for her people’.
But it is noted that said activities only take place deep in the evening, thus implying that they are illicit or secretive. And indeed as far as the Underground Railroad was concerned, logically the slaves only moved from one point to another during the nighttime, in the name of avoiding detection of course.
Or as seemingly implied in the chorus, it is specifically during the night in which the vocalist ‘stands up’. For someone to “stand up” is a well-known colloquialism, pointing to the notion of, most simply put, defending oneself against a dangerous oppressor. And that’s what the vocalist is doing, in her own way, besides ‘taking her people with her’. And needless to say what Harriet Tubman did was extremely perilous. For instance if she were caught down South, where owners were inhumanely passionate about keeping slaves in bondage, she would have undoubtedly been executed. But as also put forth in the lyrics, she felt as if doing so was her calling.
“That’s when I’m gonna stand up
Take my people with me
Together we are going to a brand new home
Far across the river
Can you hear freedom calling?
Calling me to answer
Gonna keep on keepin’ on
I can feel it in my bones”
The beginning of the second verse alludes to how traversing the Underground Railroad was hazardous beyond having to worry about slave catchers. For example, besides travelling in the dark, participants also had to traverse dangerous terrains, i.e. those where detection was minimized, in the process.
But as also shown they were ready to make such sacrifices, even fighting to the death if need be, with an understanding that such a mentality was required to achieve freedom – or “salvation” as the vocalist puts – given the situation, i.e. perpetual bondage, that they were in.
So as the song progresses and leads us into the bridge, the term “stand up” takes on an expanded meaning. That is to say that the Underground Railroad was not only a case of man against man but also against nature and himself in a manner of speaking, in that they knew danger lied ahead.
In other words, a person had to be really courageous to embark on that trek to begin with. And the same can be said for those who supported them along the way, that they took a stand also, since doing so, especially further South, was in fact illegal.
But conclusively, what’s mostly being illustrated here was Harriet Tubman’s own personal conviction to the cause. Tubman, to note, was a runaway slave who had benefited from the Underground Railroad herself.
So given the spirit within her she had a mission, which was to likewise ‘take her people’ out of bondage and “to a brand new home”, i.e. freedom. And according to popular history Tubman achieved that goal more so than anyone else involved in the Underground Railroad, which is why movies and such are being made about her to this day.
Release Date of “Stand Up”
“Stand Up (From Harriet)” is the name of the lead single from the soundtrack album to the 2019 biographical film titled “Harriet”. The track has an official release date of October 25 of 2019.
Writing & Production
Erivo composed this song along with two other writers, Joshuah Campbell and Gabe Fox-Peck.
Will Wells is credited as the sole producer of “Stand Up (From Harriet)”.