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Lesson 1: Learning “Everybody Wants Freedom”

Aim: How can we use lyrics in a song to deliver an important message?
Summary: Students change the message of the song by altering one phrase; they also have an opportunity to write their own song delivering a message that is important to them.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide, classroom instruments
Standards: National 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11; NYC 1, 2, 3, 4
Vocabulary: freedom song

“Everybody Wants Freedom” is based on a traditional gospel song “Amen.” A snippet of the freedom song was captured as an impromptu moment sung by the demonstrators at the historic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Following in the tradition of freedom singers, Starr expanded the song by adding her own verses to the chorus.

Starr Teaches “Everybody Wants Freedom”

“Everybody Wants Freedom” Demonstration

Freedom songs artist Starr teaches her arrangement of the traditional song “Everybody Wants Freedom.”

Sing “Everybody Wants Freedom”

  • Listen to the “Everybody Wants Freedom” audio track.
  • Learn the words and the melody to the chorus using the “Everybody Wants Freedom” chorus audio track.

“Everybody Wants Freedom”


If you’re drowning in confusion,
Searching for the light,
Freedom is the companion who’ll make everything alright.
It’ll set your heart at ease and give you peace of mind,
You can make your way in this wild world,
Everywhere a friend you’ll find.

Everybody wants freedom
Everybody wants freedom
Everybody wants freedom
Freedom, freedom

Without freedom people wonder
What this life is for.
A life lived in bondage
That ain’t no life no more.
I been here and there and everywhere
Of one thing I am sure:
When people are free, we can all agree
Life’s easier to endure.


Don’t know how else to say it.
How can I make it more plain?
We know freedom is the answer to every ache and pain.
Everybody’s got a right
To get what freedom gives.
You’re free to love your neighbor as you love yourself
In freedom we can live!


Discover New Lyrics in “Everybody Wants Freedom”

  • It is a tradition in freedom songs to write new lyrics to address specific events or express personal ideas or feelings.
  • Starr did this by writing her own lyrics for the song, which explore what freedom means to her. Reflect on these lyrics with your students.
    • What does it mean to be free?
    • How does freedom make you feel?
    • What prevents people from being free?
    • What are some things we can do to free ourselves? Our community?
    • In the song “Everybody Wants Freedom,” the phrase “everybody wants” is traditionally replaced with other phrases. Some examples used by other singers include
      • “In the neighborhood, freedom!”
      • “We’re gonna walk and talk freedom.”
      • “We’re gonna sing and dance freedom.”
    • As a class or in small groups, write new phrases to replace the phrase “everybody wants” that reflect your students’ concerns and hopes.
      • Where do we need freedom? Who needs freedom? How will we get freedom?
  • Experiment and play with your phrase until it fits well into the line of music, using the “Everybody Wants Freedom” lyric exercise audio track.
  • Go a step further and write new lyrics to the song, similar to what Starr did. Each group can lead the whole class in singing its version of the song using the “Everybody Wants Freedom” instrumental audio track.

Write Your Own Song

  • We hope you and your students will be inspired by the study of freedom songs to create a song about change that speaks to you. Send your songs to musicalexplorers@carnegiehall.org.
  • Discuss issues on students’ minds. They can be issues at home, at school, or in the larger world. No issue is too small or personal. The goal is to change the world somehow, but the world can be defined as locally or as globally as you want.
  • Here are some guiding questions:
    • What is a problem in our lives?
    • How does it make you feel?
    • What stands in our way?
    • What can we do about it?
  • Brainstorm lyrics as a group. You can choose an existing melody and write new lyrics, or you can go all out and write your own melody too.
  • Here are some tips for writing a melody:
    • Start with the rhythm of the words. Have students chant the words on a single note.
    • Decide where you want the melody of each line to go up and down, and whether the change will happen gradually (by step) or all at once (by leap).
    • Draw the melodic line, illustrating its contour.
    • Choose a simple chord progression, common to freedom songs and other folk songs. One possibility is to use the chords of the “Everybody Wants Freedom” instrumental audio track. Responding to your students’ guidance and suggestion, shape the melody to fit the chord progression.

Great Singers of the Civil Rights Movement

In Great Singers of the Civil Rights Movement (PDF), students will learn about some of the great freedom singers of the Civil Rights Movement. Listen as a class to sample songs by each of these artists, which you can find under Resources for Teachers.

Musical Word Wall

Add the word freedom song to the Musical Word Wall.

Image Credits

“Civil rights march on Washington, D.C.” by Warren K Leffler.

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