Freedom Sings concert stresses importance of First Amendment

“Freedom Sings” performs on Cartwright Hall April 26, 2018.

Conor Battles

The music of artists as diverse as Beyoncé and the Beatles was used to discuss the importance and relevance of the First Amendment to Kent State students at the Freedom Sings concert and lecture Thursday night.

Freedom Sings is a musical education initiative founded by the Newseum Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to spreading awareness of the freedoms granted by the First Amendment to journalists and everyday people.

The May 4 Visitors Center and the College of Communication and Information co-sponsored the event. A major focus of this year’s May 4 programming has been the role of the First Amendment in the lives of student activists, culminating in this interactive performance.

“Students on May 4 knew their First Amendment rights,” said Mindy Farmer, the director of the May 4 Visitors Center. “And students today, carrying on that legacy, need to know their First Amendment rights. We usually tell our students when they go on our tours that they’re inheriting a history of activism, and this is part of their new identity.”

The band, featuring songwriters Sara Beck, Bill Lloyd, Jonell Mosser, Jason White, Seth Timbs and former Prince guitarist Dez Dickerson, played a wide array of songs and styles to students at Cartwright Hall to convey the impact of protest songs and controversial music throughout modern history.

“We often think about protests and other instances where the First Amendment has been tested, but people rarely think about music,” Farmer said. “(Freedom Sings) is an interesting way of looking at the First Amendment through music. It’s a real-deal concert with an important educational focus.”

Audience interaction was a vital part of the show. The performances were accompanied by a handful of mini-lectures, question-and-answer segments and multimedia presentations about why a given song, artist or movement was an important example of the First Amendment in action.

“I think Freedom Sings is a really compelling way to get people interested in the role of protest and expression — sometimes unpopular expression — in making changes to our society,” said Mark Goodman, a professor of journalism and mass communication, who proposed the event to the May 4 Center. “I heard the program for the first time probably 15 or more years ago and was just really blown away by it. When I came here to Kent State in 2008, one of the first things I thought was that a program like this would have a special relevance on our campus.”

One of the evening’s most memorable moments came with the inevitable performance of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio,” the legendary folk-rock response to the events of May 4. The song is a staple of Freedom Sings concerts, but the solemn nature of the performance took on an even stronger impact when played on Kent State’s campus.

“People feel a real affinity for music,” Goodman said. “One of the nice things about Freedom Sings is that it tells the story of the First Amendment through a wide variety of musical genres. Everything from rap to country has had its own connections to free expression. My goal is for more people to appreciate the role free expression plays in our society and how they have a voice that can make the world a better place.”

Conor Battles is the CCI and libraries reporter. Contact him at [email protected].