MTSU HOSTS ‘SHUT UP AND DANCE,’ HIGHLIGHTS FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN MUSIC

College of Media and Entertainment Dean Ken Paulson hosted a combination of presentation and performance, titled “Shut Up and Dance,” for the attendees of the Southeast Journalism Conference in the Student Union Building on Saturday.

The Southeast Journalism Conference is a yearly gathering of student journalists from about 30 universities across the region, and MTSU hosted this year.

Photo by Emily Blalock / MTSU Sidelines

Paulson had a group of musicians on stage to perform songs that had been censored or used for protest. On keyboard was Steve Miller Band member Joseph Wooten, playing guitar was Nashville songwriter Seth Timbs and the vocalists were former The Voice contestant Kristi Hoopes and Nashville musician Mikala Jones.

Paulson started out his presentation by talking about a dancer and movie star named Eartha Kitt. While Kitt was a great performer, she was also opinionated and strong-willed. In 1967, she was invited to the White House to visit with former first lady Ladybird Johnson, and the meeting didn’t go quite as planned.

“Eartha gave Ladybird an earful about how the war in Vietnam was immoral and how our young men were coming home dead and how it was a waste and a tragedy,” Paulson said.

It was reported that Kitt had left the first lady in tears, and for 10 years after this incident, Kitt could not get a gig in the U.S.

“When you say things that are controversial, you can pay a price. She was told, Eartha Kitt was told to ‘shut up and dance,’” Paulson explained. “And that’s what this show is all about. Those who defy instructions … to shut up and sing or shut up and dance.”

Paulson and the musicians highlighted some songs in history that had been written as forms of protest. Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” a song advocating for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to be a holiday, was performed. The musicians provided a rendition of Neil Young’s “Ohio,” which details the Kent State massacre, and Paulson also described Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” as an anthem for anti-war and civil rights movements.

At one point during the show, the group sang a “drug medley” of songs that were banned from being played on radio stations for their possible reference to drugs. The medley included “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “With a Little Help from my Friends” and “Yellow Submarine,” songs that are considered harmless or even classics in today’s standards.

Paulson also told the story of Sam Cooke’s most sampled song, “A Change is Gonna Come.”

“He (Cooke) had a particularly horrible day in 1963 when he tried to get into a motel room in Louisiana, and they turned him away because of the color of his skin,” Paulson explained. “Well this haunted him. This crushed him. He was a proud man and one of the most famous entertainers in America, and he could not believe he couldn’t stay at a cheap motel … He went to his tour bus and wrote this song (A Change is GonnaCome) in a matter of minutes.”

After the group performed the song, Paulson played a clip of former U.S. President Barack Obama referencing the song on election night. He talked about how the song became the anthem of the civil rights movement and had been sampled over 100 times by different artists.

At the end of the panel, Paulson left the journalism students with a message.

“You might ask yourself, why are we sharing this show with a group of young journalists?” he asked. “Well, what those folks did with guitars and pianos, you’re doing with laptops and cameras … When this nation was founded, that first generation of Americans refused to ratify the constitution unless they had a free press. Let’s be clear about this: The job you have now and hopefully will have throughout your career is not just another job. It was handed to you by a first generation of Americans who trusted you and everyone who came before you to keep an eye on people in power … Some have fought that good fight with music, and you’re going to fight it with journalism.”

See more photos at: MTSU Sidelines

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