Toast to Freedom

Every sort of travel, whether you take a trip around the corner or across the world, changes your perspective. A lawyer in London found this happening to him one day, as he read an article in the newspaper on his way to work. He learned that two people ahd been put into jail in another country for, the article said, making a toast to liberty and freedom. The people in charge in that country at the time thought this might mean these people would act against their regime. So into jail the two people went.

The lawyer decided to write a letter, asking that those prisoners not be forgotten. That letter turned into what was going to be a short, one time campaign. That was fifty years ago. What came of it is the organization known as Amnesty International. Fifty years on, more than three million people in dozens of countries work to see that prisoners of conscience are not forgotten.

To honor the fiftieth anniversary of Amnesty International, musicians Carl Carlton (he’s worked with Robert Palmer and Keb Mo among others) and Larry Campbell (who has been part of Bob Dylan’s band and played with Elvis Costello) decided to write a song that would celebrate the anniversary, and which could be marketed to raise funds for the organization’s ongoing work. They called it Toast to Freedom, and producer Jochen Wilms and Art for Amnesty founder Bill Shipley signed on to help.

What they had in mind was to get fifty artists to lend their voices to the song — and they succeeded. Many were able to gather in upstate New York at The Barn, a studio belonging to Americana musician Levon Helm. This would be one of the last projects Helm was able to do before his passing this past April. The artists joined in joyful celebration singing the anthemic song, and those who couldn’t be present in New York added their tracks from around the world. Filmmaker Natalie Johns caught the different stages of the international recording process on video. A song was born, blending the talents of artists including Angelique Kidjo, Shawn Mullins, Taj Mahal, Rosanne Cash, John Leventhal, Kris Kristofferson, and many others.

Here’s a bit of what the artists thought about the project, and what the recording sessions were like.

To find out more about the song, the organization, and the artists, visit

photograph of Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal by Kerry Dexter. it was made with permission of the artists and is copyrighted. thank you for respecting that.

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  1. Dean Fields Reply