18 Oct Joanie Leeds Talks ‘Freadom’ and the Right to Receive Information
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
While Banned Books Week has passed, the fight against censorship of literature has gained momentum thanks to artists like Joanie Leeds.
The Grammy winning family musician recently released Freadom: Songs Inspired by Banned Children’s Books, a “protest” children’s album that was created in response to the recent book bans in politically conservative states.
But under the surface, Leeds’ 11th studio album, which follows on the tails of 2020’s All the Ladies, is more than a political statement. It’s a musical treasure trove of cool songs inspired by the stories within banned books, featuring a long list of talented musical collaborators, including Flor Bromley, Regina Carter, Saul Paul, Divinity Roxx, Cheryl B. Engelhardt, Oran Etkin, Darius Kalantari, Lucy Kalantari, Aaron Nigel Smith, Kymberly Stewart, Robin Tucker, Syreeta Thompson, Rob Dietz, and more. Leeds’ daughter Joya Barman is also a featured artist on the record.
“The First Amendment protects our freedom of expression and the right to receive information, yet book banning has been happening in our country since its founding, and lately book banning is all over the news,” says Leeds in a recent promotional video.
We recently caught up with the NYC-based mom to tell us a little more about why she made this album — and why it’s so important for moms and musicians like her to pay attention to book-banning trends.
Rockmommy: Can you talk about what motivated you to create this album Freadom? Was there a specific moment, when you were like “You know what? I’m going to make this album, I’m so angry!”
Joanie Leeds: Rage was definitely a factor! It all started at a dinner with friends this past winter when we were talking about the book bans, especially in my home state of Florida.
I found a list online of all the books that had been banned in 2021-2022 on PEN America’s website and then when I saw the children’s books, I realized most of them were books my daughter and I had either read together or were on her shelves at home.
This was the spark. The flame ignited when I told my 8-year-old about these books and how kids in certain places weren’t allowed to read these books in schools and libraries anymore and she became VERY angry, rightfully so! This is how it all started.
Rockmommy: The songs are awesome! What can you tell us about them — how did they come to life, and how did you get so many other awesome artists to play? (I’m currently streaming “Inside Your Heart” and I love it!)
Joanie Leeds: Thank you so much! My daughter and I checked out dozens of banned books from the list and read them all. We selected some of our favorites and then I set aside one week to write all the songs. I do very well with a short deadline. I wanted the books to inspire the songs and my hope was to elevate different voices and diverse communities represented in each of these books. This is why there are many different styles and musical genres represented. Each book had a different style to it, a different culture or background to emulate.
Rockmommy: You recently wrote a piece for Billboard magazine about why musicians need to wake up to the banned books. Can you tell us why musicians need to get more involved?
Joanie Leeds: In the Billboard article I explained why musicians must stand up for books and it is all about protecting our first amendment rights. The far right might be currently focusing on books but music is surely right around the corner. I mentioned in the article that my friends over at PEN America alerted me that a song, “Rainbowland” (by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus) was recently banned in Wisconsin. A teacher spoke up about it and was fired. Musicians (and everyone) must keep books, music and speech free to have a functioning democracy, otherwise we are headed into a fascist future where we won’t be able to speak up about anything.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.