Singers and songwriters Garth Brooks and Stephanie Davis will discuss the continuing importance of a song they co-wrote more than three decades ago when Vanderbilt Divinity School hosts “We Shall Be Free in 2023: Pursuing Unity Through Music” on Tuesday, April 11, at Langford Auditorium.
The conversation, which begins at 6:30 p.m., is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Registration is required.
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“We are delighted to welcome Garth Brooks and Stephanie Davis to Vanderbilt and to celebrate the enduring relevance of ‘We Shall Be Free,’” said Emilie M. Townes, dean of the Divinity School and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Ethics and Society. “We look forward to an engaging and thought-provoking discussion.”
“We Shall Be Free,” released in 1992 on Garth Brooks’ album The Chase, is a call to unity, peace and social justice. Brooks and Davis co-wrote the song in response to the Los Angeles riots that erupted in April 1992 after four police officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King. The lyrics, set to a gospel melody, yearn for a time “when we all walk hand in hand,” a world without hunger, racism, homelessness, homophobia, economic exploitation and needless violence.
“We Shall Be Free” has become a highlight of Brooks’ concerts. He chose to perform it when he was asked to sing during We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial and at Equality Rocks 2000. When Brooks received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2021, Gladys Knight performed the song at his request.
Brooks recently completed a lengthy stadium tour, which drew an average of more than 95,000 people in each city and was seen by a cumulative audience of nearly 3 million people. He remains the No. 1-selling solo artist in U.S. history, certified by the Recording Industry Association of America, with 157 million album sales.
Brooks is the first and only artist in history to receive nine RIAA Diamond Awards for having nine albums certified at over 10 million sales each. He is also the first seven-time recipient of the Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year award. In September 2022, he was honored with the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award by the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
Davis is passionate about songs and stories and their amazing ability to heal, inspire and connect everyone. She grew up in rural Montana, and she frequently draws from her deep love of animals and nature—often with a dose of dry Western humor thrown in. Her songs have been recorded by many artists, including Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Joey + Rory, among others. She has written and toured with Brooks and has performed at songwriter festivals and cowboy poetry gatherings throughout the West.
James Byrd, a professor of American religious history who holds the Cal Turner Chancellor’s Chair of Wesleyan Studies, will moderate the discussion. Topics will include how the song was written, recorded and produced; how it was received by country radio; the concept for the music video; and the song’s relevance for today. The event will include an opportunity for audience members to ask questions.
For more information, email Sha’Tika Brown.