Friday, September 30, 2016

Freedom of Speech and Song

Heather Willard

“I am woman, hear me roar,” ”Four dead in Ohio,” “They got little hands,” “How many deaths will it take till they know?” These and many more iconic lyrics blasted through the Baker Theater last night thanks to the talents of Dez Dickerson, Bill Lloyd, Lari White, and Joseph Wooten, with master of ceremonies Ken Paulson during the Freedom Sings concert through to campus by the Society of Professional Journalists.

It is no secret that songs are one of the greatest communication methods of all time, but not many people realize that there is a great deal of protest, subversion, obscene or otherwise. Even today songs from artists like Katy Perry and Meghan Trainor raise topics and conversations across the world. If citizens cannot say what they want, then there is no true freedom, and that is what the founding fathers believed, and what this concert was all about.

Performance of songs used in Freedom Sings

The ethical connotations of songs or the banning of songs has long been debated, from when “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen was banned from the airwaves for its unintelligible lyrics that were subverting children’s minds, to today when Beyonce’s Formation video and performance at the Super Bowl created uproar and has since become an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. All of the songs that were performed during the concert had pushed the boundary of their time, and pushed the boundaries of what the first amendment covers.

The night brought history to life and the spirit of American free speech to those that attended. It was also sponsored by Ohio University chapter, Society of Professional Journalists; Ohio University Center for Law, Justice & Culture; Ohio University Office for Diversity and Inclusion; and presented with assistance from The First Amendment Center. 

I was personally inspired by this concert series, as one of the songs performed was created about an incident that occurred close to home. The Kent State shooting was originally labelled a riot in headlines, and the song "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young was released to support the side of the protesters soon after the shooting.

The headline in the New York Times on May 5, 1970.
“(Neil Young) knew that we had to put Ohio out immediately,” said David Crosby in a video shown of an interview with him. “Our manager took the redeye out to new York. It was so immediate we fulfilled that older part of our job, our main job is to entertain, but it’s also to be the town crier. To say ’12 o’clock and all is well,’ or ’11:30 and it’s not so darn good!'”

Not so darn good indeed, as demonstrated by several songs released in recent years directly calling out the police and racism seen across America. Maybe in a few decades there will another group of artists, and they will be playing songs like "Don't Shoot" by a collection of artists including Rick Ross, Diddy and 2 Chains. 

Maybe in a few decades they will be singing songs we cannot predict today, but one thing is for sure. In a few decades, Americans will still be singing about freedom, pushing the boundaries of the First Amendment, and breaking down walls through music.

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