Berry celebrates First Amendment with censored music

Sylvie Wages, Campus Carrier staff writer

Katelynn Singleton, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief

Sam Askew, Campus Carrier managing editor

Rather than take a midterm, Professor of Communication Brian Carroll had his Media Law class organize a Cultural Events credit that celebrated music that has historically been censored in various countries around the world. Summer Le | Campus Carrier

Why did the FBI investigate the hit song “Louie Louie” in 1963? Why did radio stations in Houston, Nashville and Columbia, S.C. yank Tim McGraw’s “Red Rag Top” from the airwaves in 2002? Why was “Puff the Magic Dragon” banned in Singapore and Hong Kong?

The musical revue, Freedom Sings, returned to Berry for the first time since 2009 to answer these questions and to perform once-banned or otherwise controversial music in celebration of the freedoms furnished by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Featuring Berry alum Josh Huggins, Brandon Trapp and Berry students Grace Greene, Trejohn Skinner and Myles Mason, Freedom Sings was performed at Barnwell Chapel on Tuesday, April 4, the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. 

Numerous black gospel songs have been censored over the years, and the event brought this to the light. Juniors Myles Mason,
Grace Greene and senior Trejohn Skinner performed a few classics like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” in honor of Martin Luther
King Jr., and “We Shall Overcome.” Summer Le | Campus Carrier

“Our location wa part of the message of the event,” said Brian Carroll, whose Media Law students planned and put on Freedom Sings. “That we were able to share these musical selections in a sacred space underlined that there was never a legitimate reason for them to have been censored or banned in the first place.”

The event made a statement applicable to all ages as they performed a few children’s classics, including “Puff the Magic
Dragon” and “Yellow Submarine.” Josh Huggins (10c) and Brandon Trapp were among the headliners of the event and both brought their guitar skills to the table. Summer Le | Campus Carrier

Created by Ken Paulson, former executive editor at USA Today, and licensed by First Amendment Center at Middle Tennessee State University, Freedom Sings presents a history of free speech in America through music and, as a byproduct, highlights the preciousness of First Amendment freedoms of expression, the press, of and from religion, peaceable protest and petitioning government for a redress of grievances.

“It’s fun not only to sing these great tunes from the American songbook, but to tie the performance of them to something of significance,” said Huggins, a 2010 graduate from Berry in Communication. “There’s also great value in the artistic expression for its own sake.”

Freedom Sings attracted nearly a capacity crowd, just as it did in Barnwell in 2009. On the song list were “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Yellow Submarine,” both children’s songs. 

“I liked the children’s songs, and hearing about the backgrounds of those,” said Erin Catherine, senior philosophy major.

Selections also included “Annie Had a Baby,” Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and Bob Dylan’s protest anthem, “Times They Are A Changin’.”

“Perhaps my favorite episode of the censorship of popular music in America is the FBI investigation of ‘Louie, Louie,’” said Carroll, a professor and chair of Communication. “FBI agents poured into six cities over 30 months because of what the agency believed could be subversive, suggestive lyrics. The net result of that taxpayer-funded investigation was that the song is ‘unintelligible at any speed,’ and I’m quoting the FBI website for this.”

Greene, Skinner and Mason performed Black gospel standard, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite church song, and “We Shall Overcome.”

“King’s last words are reported to have been to his event manager, Ben Branch, telling him to play ‘Precious Lord,’” Carroll said. “‘Play it real pretty,’ King said just before being gunned down.”

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