GRAMMY-Winner Joanie Leeds Protests Against Banned Books Movement with New Album, "FREADOM" + New Single & Music Video for "Banned"

Article Contributed by JP Cutler Media | Published on Friday, September 1, 2023

Joining the fight to help preserve America's democracy, GRAMMY Award-winning singer/songwriter Joanie Leeds ("Best Children's Album" 2020 -- All The Ladies) protests against the controversial banned books movement with the national release of her latest studio album, FREADOM (Tiger Turn/Release Date: September 15, 2023). Along with other influential public figures taking a stand against banned books, Leeds couldn't stay silent while radical organizations campaign to remove and restrict access to books in grade schools and libraries across the country. Leeds and her all-star Book Band celebrate many of the banned children's books with a new collection of eight original songs that joyously amplify messages of love and inclusion. Slated for release on September 15, 2023, FREADOM illustrates the melodic power of solidarity, resistance, and diversity.

As an early childhood educator, mother, and children's musician for nearly 20 years, Leeds understands the developmental benefits that culminate from challenging a child's perspective through music and literature. 2022 saw the highest number of book bans and attempts to remove or restrict materials since the American Library Association started compiling data 20 years ago. Millions of children are currently losing access to important literature due to a growing movement led by conservative advocacy groups. Book banners largely target stories by and about people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and exploring Jewish themes. Freedom of expression and the right to access information are fundamental pillars of America's democracy and FREADOM is Leeds' message to the world in support of everyone's First Amendment Rights.

Joanie Leeds, says, "When the political landscape seems too divisive to make change, I ask myself as a children's musician, "What can I do?" My frustration and grief often become the catalyst for new music. FREADOM lifts up some of our favorite banned titles and causes some 'good trouble' as I reimagine the stories in song form and perform alongside some of the best musicians I know. Please take a stand and join me fighting book bans and protecting the personal freedoms of ALL Americans. We will not be banned!"

FREADOM features Leeds with a world-class cast of musicians, including GRAMMY Award-nominated and McArthur Fellow violinist Regina Carter, three GRAMMY-nominated instrumentalists including guitarist/vocalist Saul Paul, bassist/vocalist Divinity Roxx, pianist/vocalist Cheryl B. Engelhardt; and multi-reed player Oran Etkin. They're joined by an equally impressive array of guest artists, such as two-time GRAMMY winner Lucy Kalantari, Aaron Nigel Smith, and Robin Tucker on vocals, trumpeter Syreeta Thompson, Rob Dietz (vocal arranger/coach on NBC's The Sing-Off) on beatbox and vocals, among others. In much the same way that the challenged books speak to the humanity our diverse nation, FREADOM -- which is executive produced by Jonathan Alter, Rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl, A.J. Jacobs, Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, and Kasey Meehan (Pen America) -- encompasses a multifarious chorus that represents America at its best.

Motivated to write music in allyship with underrepresented and discriminated groups, Leeds says the rising tide of book bans hit particularly close to home. "As a mother of an 8-year-old daughter who loves picture books, we've been following this story very closely as many of our favorite titles have been removed from schools and libraries, particularly in my home state of Florida."

Her daughter's voice opens FREADOM with a heartfelt protest, introducing the powerful anthem "Banned." It's the song that sets the thrumming emotional tone for the album, boldly facing down the dystopian impulse to suppress disfavored views and identities. "Block Party" distills the celebratory tableau portrayed in Patricia Polacco's In Our Mothers' House; specifically about capturing a scene where neighbors "share food from different cultures, creating different games and offering kindness and protection for the beautiful family with three adopted children and two mothers," says Leeds.

And Tango Makes Three, the picture book detailing the Central Park Zoo's beloved penguin family, inspired Leeds' beguiling "Tango," which recounts "the story of two male penguins coupling off and raising a baby together," she says. As a Jewish woman, it was essential for Leeds to bring attention to the fact that books about the Holocaust (Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl and Art Spiegelman's Maus) are being banned. Mara Rockliff's and Kyrsten Brooker's Chik Chak Shabbat, an uplifting story about a diverse cast of neighbors rallying to help an ailing Jewish woman observe Shabbat, inspired the incantatory "Cholent Time."

A tribute to Junot Diaz's Islandborn, the Caribbean-tinged "Inside Your Heart" honors the children of immigrants who learn about their ancestral homeland from stories passed down by their families -- the song has lead vocals by Lucy Kalantari and translated Spanish lyrics (and background vocals) by Flor Bromley. The irresistible soaring anthem and a cappella song "Rainbow Flag" (arranged by NBC's The Sing-Off's Rob Dietz ), is sparked by Rob Sanders' and Steven Salerno's oft-targeted Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag.

"Sing it Out" is Leeds' homage to Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations, Kelly Starling Lyons' and Keith Mallett's moving book about the NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson hymn often described as the Black National Anthem. Co-written with GRAMMY Award-nominated Aaron Nigel Smith, the track features fellow GRAMMY nominees Saul Paul and Divinity Roxx rapping and singing, with additional vocals by Kymberly Stewart.

FREADOM closes with "Born That Way," a sweetly crooning ode to gender diversity and following one's dreams inspired by Marcus Ewert's and Rex Ray's 10,000 Dresses.

For a comprehensive list of Joanie Leeds' forthcoming concerts, including at The Cutting Room (NYC: Sept. 27), the Jewish Museum (NYC: Oct. 15), the Children's Museum of Manhattan (NYC: Dec. 2 & 3), among other shows, please visit:

About Joanie Leeds:
A leading progressive voice in children's music, the New York City-based Leeds is a national touring artist, early childhood educator and activist. Since the 2003 release of her album, Soul from My Footsteps, her witty, heartfelt, and righteous body of work has earned numerous awards, including 1st place in the USA Songwriting Competition, the International Songwriting Competition, the Independent Music Awards, Gold Parents' Choice Awards, NAPPA Gold Awards, and Family Choice Awards. Her 2020 gender equality album for families, All the Ladies, won a GRAMMY Award for "Best Children's Album." With FREADOM, Leeds is once again bringing her music to the frontlines, offering support and inspiring music to push back against those seeking to diminish the all-inclusive American songbook.