MTSU-produced ‘Freedom Sings’ documentary illustrates First Amendment freedoms through music

“Freedom Sings, the Songs that Shaped America,” a documentary about free speech and music shot by students at Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Media and Entertainment, is now being previewed exclusively on MTSU’s YouTube channel.

DVDs of the concert film, produced in partnership between MTSU and the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center, will be released later this year and distributed to schools free. It’s available online now at

The film was recorded at Nashville’s historic Bluebird Café and features some of the city’s most talented artists, including Janis Ian, Lari White, Gretchen Peters, Amy Speace, Fred Knobloch, Joseph Wooten, Bill Lloyd, Eric Brace, Garry Tallent, Sara Beck, Danny Flowers, Jonell Mosser, Seth Timbs, Dave Coleman and Brian Wright.

“The concert film is a rich and entertaining viewing experience, but it also serves as a powerful teaching tool for college and high school teachers,” said Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment and the film’s producer.

Freedom Sings, which features prominent recording artists playing music that has been banned or censored, or has sounded a call for social change, was launched in 1999 by Paulson, who is also president of the First Amendment Center. It has toured the United States under the direction of Paulson and Gene Policinski, the institute’s chief operating officer and senior vice president of the center.

The film explores American history through popular music. Songs from the civil rights, women’s rights and environmental movements are illustrated with songs like “Society’s Child,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “What’s Goin’ On,” “I Am Woman,” “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) ” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”

A teaching guide is also available, Paulson said, to help students “explore free speech in America through rock, pop, folk and soul music.” The guide is available at under the site’s “promotional materials” tab.

Many of the nation’s leading news and journalism education organizations are among supporting partners in the project, including the Journalism Education Association, Associated Press Media Editors, the American Society of News Editors, the 1 For All First Amendment campaign and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

“It’s vital to remember, embrace and share the journey of music through the First Amendment lens,” said Laura Sellers-Earl, APME president and managing editor of The Daily Astorian of Astoria, Oregon.

“The APME stands in support of this Freedom Sings documentary and its important outreach to high school students,” Sellers-Earl said.

Founded by legendary journalist John Seigenthaler in 1991, the First Amendment Center is a program of the Newseum Institute, the education and outreach partner of the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism located in Washington, D.C. The center has offices in the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and at the Newseum.

Paulson was appointed dean at MTSU July 2013. The College of Media and Entertainment is the fifth largest communications college in the nation and is the only one that features departments of recording industry, journalism and electronic media communication.