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 AJR  Drop Cap

From AJR,   January/February 2000  issue

Let Freedom Rock   


By Danielle Christophe
Danielle Christophe is a former AJR editorial assistant and production assistant.     

Move over Arista Records, Sony Music and Virgin Records. The Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center has stepped into the music production ring, and it's doing it with the express purpose not to turn a profit.

"We believe in free press and free speech and free CDs," says Kenneth Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, located at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and senior vice president of the Freedom Forum.

"Freedom Sings," a 16- to 18-track album to be released early this year, represents the center's attempt to make people more aware of their First Amendment rights through music. "Too many Americans forget that the First Amendment belongs to them," says Paulson, who is also the executive producer of the music project. "We're increasingly trying to use the arts to get the message across."

The CD will include works that have been censored either by the government or by radio stations, such as Neil Young's 1970 protest song, "Ohio," Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' "Annie Had a Baby" (1955), Jill Sobule's "I Kissed a Girl" (1995) and the national anthem (which is based on an English drinking song). Featured artists include John Kay, of the rock band Steppenwolf, and singer-songwriter Bill Lloyd.

But don't go rushing to your local music store to pick up a copy. The First Amendment Center will be the album's sole distributor. CDs will be given to college radio stations and youth organizations as a "First Amendment outreach" tool, says Paulson.

"A lot of young people may not be as informed with respect to the ongoing bombardment that the First Amendment is under," says Kay, whose band has encountered censorship in the past, particularly with its 1968 hit "The Pusher." A member of the First Amendment Center's advisory board, Kay says he thinks the center's program will appeal to college students because many relate to music more than they would to literary work.

"Freedom Sings" is also the title of a concert sponsored by the center that was held last July at Nashville's Bluebird Cafe. The concert will be an annual celebration.

Though the response to the upcoming CD has been overwhelmingly positive--several disc jockeys have expressed interest in promoting it--Paulson says disbursement will remain selective. "Every CD we distribute has to have an impact," he says. "Every CD has to have a message."