By Erin Crowell
How can you marry constitutional law with rock and roll and have it make
Its a question Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center
(FAC), says he gets often before his Freedom Sings presentation, Fight
the Power: The Music That Changed America. Presented by the FACa
non-profit, non-partisan organizationthe multimedia program aims to
remind Americans of the five freedoms of the First Amendment: speech,
press, religious liberty, assembly and petition.
Freedom Sings, now in its 11th year of touring, will make a stop at North
Central Michigan College, in Petoskey, on Wednesday, March 23.
FROM THE ROLLING STONES TO EMINEM
Every generation creates its own music; and inevitably, their parents say
thats not music, says Paulson. That has occurred for literally
generations and that is one of the most entertaining aspects of Freedom
Sings. These bands play songs that were once regarded as offensive and
Along with narration, video and photographs, a live band will perform sets
of songs once deemed controversial in America; from the Rolling Stones and
Elvis to the Black Eyed Peas and Eminem, says Paulson.
The FAC, along with its Freedom Sings Program, hopes to expose young
audiences to a history of free speech through music songs like Richard
Berrys 1956 hit Louie Louie.
A 2005 Associated Press article reported Benton Harbor Middle School had
finally lifted its ban on students performing the song, which stories
rumored for decades contained obscenities.
A Freedom Sings audiences reaction to such stories is revelatory, says
The average age of our audience is 19 years old, and theyre hearing once
controversial songsand for some of them, for the first timeand its
amazing seeing these young people react to thought provoking music in a
very fresh way.
Paulson says the evolution of controversial songs has shaped the way we
look at music today songs like The Beatles With A Little Help From My
It used to be highly criticized as a song that encouraged young people to
elevate to drugs; now you hear it all the time in elevators and frozen
food sections of the grocery store.
The FAC is housed at the Newseum of Washington, D.C., a
250,000-square-foot interactive museum geared to providing visitors with a
deeper understanding of the First Amendment.
The museum features 14 galleries containing five centuries of news
history, a state-of-the-art broadcast studio, 15 theatresincluding a 4-D
immersive experience that highlights the worlds greatest stories and
momentsalong with several rotating exhibits, from First Dogs:
Presidential Pets in the White House to Inside Tim Russerts Office: If
Its Sunday, Its Meet the Press.
The Newseum acts as a base for other non-profit/non-partisan organizations
such as the Freedom Forum and the Diversity Institute.
While the Newseum provides adequate exposure to the general public, the
FACs primary home is at Vanderbilt University in Nashville where the
music community has rallied behind the organization for Freedom Sings.
A lot of our supporters are musicians, Paulson says. So, 11 years ago
when the FAC started thinking about creative ways to expose the general
public to First Amendment rights, a musical program only seemed natural.
Paulson will bring with him to Petoskey an army of musicians, present and
past, that may not be household names, but who have appeared on concert
programs with a few big tickets.
Musicians include Bill Lloyd, who spent last summer touring with country
band Cheap Trick; Dez Dickerson, guitar player for Prince; Mike Webb,
keyboardist for artists John Fogerty and LeAnn Rimes; and John Moser, who
has toured with Ringo Starr, along with various members of Tom Petty and
Paulson says probably the biggest challenge for the Freedom Sings program
is getting potential audiences to realize the program is as much about
entertainment as it is education.
People should come to the show because they want to have an entertaining
evening and see musicians play some of Americas greatest hits, he
clarifies. If you tell people to come out and attend this program about
the First Amendment, it doesnt sound like a good time.
But you will truly have a great time. An education is just a helpful
bi-product of the evening. There are moments that are very emotional; and
its really moving to see an audience of 20-somethings who have glistening
eyes because they are so moved by the music and the story behind it.
Paulson says 98% of Freedom Sings shows end in a standing ovation.
Not to put any pressure on Petoskey, of course, he laughs.
The First Amendment Center presents its Freedom Sings program Fight the
Power: The Music That Changed America at North Central Michigan College,
in Petoskey, on March 23. The public is invited to the 7 p.m. program,
which is free; but tickets are required, which are available at the
college business office and bookstore on the Petoskey campus; at the
Gaylord, Cheboygan and East Jordan campuses; as well as the Chamber of
Commerce office in Petoskey, Harbor Springs, Charlevoix and Indian River.
Visit ncmich.edu for more information.