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Above all, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. American musicians have taken those words to heart and put them to song for decades. Songs that protest war or celebrate sex and drugs have become the stuff of legend. But what's a protest song without some controversy?

Last year, a major concert event at Nashville's famed Bluebird Café celebrated songs that have been banned, controversial or protested. Infamous songs were performed by some of music's top singer-songwriters. That occasion was celebrated by the release of a videotape of the event, produced by the First Amendment Center. Celebrating its success, the event was repeated this year. It was also timed to coincide with folk singer Woody Guthrie's birthday.

Powerful renditions of "Let's Spend The Night Together", "Freedom", "This Land Is Your Land" and even "Okie From Muskogee" were performed by the likes of Swan Dive, Duane Jarvis and Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Highlights of the evening included Amy Rigby singing Bob Dylan's "Story of Hurricane" ( a recent movie starred Denzel Washington as wrongly jailed boxer Hurricane Carter), and Grammy Award winning songwriter Matraca Berg's sultry version of Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" - a song about prostitutes.

The most harrowing performance came from Greg Trooper. Backed by Gary Tallent of the E Street Band, they blasted out a version of a new song by Bruce Springsteen called "American Skin". A blatant protest of the shooting of an immigrant by the New York City police, it caused a furor when Springsteen sang it at New York's Madison Square Garden. Trooper's intense rendition drove home The Boss's passionate words and drew a standing ovation from the crowd.

"The beautiful thing about words," said Kim Richey, a noted singer songwriter who performed at the show, "is that once they're out there, you can't stop them. You can stop the person, but you can't stop the words."

The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, the right to assemble and to petition the government. For more information about purchasing the Freedom Sings video, call 615 321 9588 or / Issue 9 - September 2018
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