An eclectic group of Nashville musicians will be playing music ranging from Elvis Presley to the Black Eyed Peas at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12 in PARC at Danieley Center — all to help explain the first Amendment.

“Freedom Sings: The Music They Didn’t Want You to Hear” is a show that uses music that has either been banned or helped start social movements to illustrate freedom of expression and the history of free speech and is co-sponsored by Elon News Network.

The show is authored and narrated by Ken Paulson, former editor-in-chief of USA Today and president of the First Amendment Center. 

“It’s one of those shows that until you actually see it you don’t get what it’s all about,” Paulson said. “You wouldn’t think merging constitutional law and rock ’n’ roll would be a good fit.”

According to Paulson, only 3 percent of Americans can recite what the five freedoms and the First Amendment are, and one-third cannot name a single freedom listed.

To increase awareness, Paulson came up with an engaging way to explain how the First Amendment protects creative expression through music and history.

For example, after the Kent State University shootings, the news coverage mostly blamed the students until Neil Young spoke up for them by writing “Ohio.” Freedom Sings will show footage explaining the tragedy before going into their own rousing version of “Ohio.”

“We were looking for a program that was entertaining, appealed to a new generation,” Paulson said. “I have good friends among Nashville artists who feel strongly about protecting free speech and I wrote a script and sought out the best talent.”

The performances deal with a social movement and explain how they were fueled by song, ranging in genre from pop to rock ’n’ roll, putting a twist on music students have heard their entire lives.

Artists such as Dez Dickerson, the original guitarist for Prince and the Revolution, Joseph Wooten, three-time Grammy nominee and a keyboardist with the Steve Miller Band and Nashville singer Jonell Moser, among others, will come together for this concert. 

After hearing of Freedom Sings during a Student Media Summit in Nashville in February, Colin Donohue, director of student media and faculty director of the Danieley Center neighborhood, knew he had to bring it to Elon.

Donohue feels the concert matches the theme of the neighborhood: civic engagement.

“We thought that a concert that deals with free expression and free speech was important to part of our theme,” he said. “We also thought it was appropriate considering it was an election year, and we think students should think more critically about how they are expressing themselves.”

Donohue has reached out to communications professors and students, political science professors and students, as well as various political groups, about attending the concert. 

But he believes the message has a broader reach.

“Free expression and free speech is applicable to students of all areas, so it’s not just a School of Communications thing,” Donohue said. “It’s important for all of us to understand it, and it has a large reach.”

The concert is only performed eight to 10 times across the country each year. Freedom Sings hopes the campuses they choose are engaged and will embrace the combination of music and history.

“We almost always receive a standing ovation —no pressure to Elon,” Paulson said. “The reaction is almost always the same. People say, ‘We so enjoyed that and if I knew how fun is was I would have brought my roommate.’”


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