Freedom Sings to celebrate ‘The Watergate Years’

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fourteen years ago the First Amendment Center took a distinctly musical turn.

Our Nashville-based center decided to take advantage of its presence in Music City and organized a charitable event focusing on free speech and music. The concept was simple: Music is free speech with a melody; this new “Freedom Sings” project would feature songs that had once been censored or challenged.

The first Freedom Sings concert in 1999 at the Bluebird Cafe included Jonell Mosser singing “Annie Had a Baby,” Bill Lloyd performing “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” Steppenwolf’s John Kay on “The Pusher,” Beth Nielsen Chapman’s rendition of “Society’s Child,” and many more.

We haven’t missed a year since. The Freedom Sings concerts even spawned a road show, which has traveled to America’s campuses and communities for the last decade, including a performance last week for the Associated Press Media Editors in Nashville.

This year’s Freedom Sings concert, Oct. 3 at the Bluebird, will benefit The Contributor, a newspaper published by the homeless community in Nashville. The show will focus on the years 1972-1974, which we’ve collectively tagged “The Watergate Years.”

As we researched music from those three years, we were surprised at how apolitical popular music had become. The strident anti-war anthems of the late 1960s were gone, and only a handful of songs seemed to focus on the turmoil of the times. This was a period in which the nation was still trying to extricate itself from Vietnam, we had our first taste of the oil crisis and the presidency was embroiled in scandal. And yet pop songs largely avoided all of those issues.

This year’s Freedom Sings focuses less on censored music and more on the songs and artists that broke new ground, addressing new topics in new ways. These include “Superfly,” Curtis Mayfield’s take on inner city life, Merle Haggard’s, “If I Can Make It to December,” Paul Simon’s poignant “American Tune” and Randy Newman’s “Sail Away.”

These were years in which spirituality was welcome on the record charts. George Harrison’s “Give Me Love” (“Give Me Peace on Earth”), the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Just Alright,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” were three examples. This was also an era in which artists pushed the envelope in terms of gender roles, including David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel,” and the New York Dolls’ “Personality Crisis.”

The list of guest artists who are scheduled to appear represents a wide range of genres. Guests will include Mark Volman of The Turtles, Walter Egan, Lari White, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey, Bill Lloyd, Ashley Cleveland, Danny Flowers, Don Henry, Craig Krampf, Jonell Mosser, Jason White, Joseph Wooten, Gordon Kennedy, Rick Brantley, Barry Walsh and Dave Paulson.

Reservations for the Oct. 3 concert will be available beginning Sept. 26 at

For more information about Freedom Sings, contact Ken Paulson at