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'Tennessee Rise' Has Allison Russell, Others Supporting Social Justice

Gloria Johnson, a member of the famous “Tennessee Three,” who Republicans attempted to eject from the Tennessee legislature last year, has quite a choir behind her in her campaign to be elected to the U.S. Senate this fall. Grammy-winning singer Allison Russell has led a group of more than 30 singers in recording “Tennessee Rise,” an anthem supporting movements for social justice and equality in the state, with Johnson’s candidacy at the forefront.

A video for the song released Wednesday includes many of the artists who lent their voices to the project with solo or group-sung parts, collectively dubbed the Tennessee Freedom Singers. Among the stars participating in the track are Brittany Howard, Amanda Shires, Brittney Spencer, Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile and Maren Morris.

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The huge cast of names, drawing largely upon singers well-known in the Americana or country worlds, also includes Katie Pruitt, Langhorne Slim, Mary Gauthier, Fancy Hagood, Brooke Eden, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Elizabeth Cook, Erin Rae, Meghan Linsey, Ruby Amanfu, Devon Gilfillian, Mya Byrne, Jaimee Harris, Julie Williams, Kam Franklin, Kyshona Armstrong, Lilly Winwood, Meghan McCormick, MORGXN, Paul McDonald, Phillip-Michael Scales, Sam Ashworth, Sara Van Buskirk, Shelly Colvin, Tre Burt and Wade Sapp.

Musically and lyrically, the song bears the unmistakable stamp of its writers, Russell and her husband and musical partner, JT Nero, as heard on her recent Grammy-winning album “The Returner.” The refrain includes the hopeful lines “Go and make yourself known / Tomorrow knows their own.”

A key sample verse:

Oh The Trail of Tears is still rolling

Ole Tennessee waltzing in blood

My daughter can’t sleep for the nightmares

Every night she’s gunned down at school

Everyday she sings her wild anthems

She beats her fears out on her drums

Now she’s a wolf cub yeah she’s Harriet Tubman

Can we be brave as our children?

Those lyrics allude to the March 2023 mass shooting at the Covenant School, an elementary school in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville in which three adults and three children were slain by an assailant. Russell, the song’s instigator, has previously spoken about the climate of fear following that tragedy and how it affected her daughter.

That incident led to widespread protests against the state’s gun laws, which in turn led to the attempted expulsion of the Tennessee Three — Johnson, Justin Pearson and Justin Jones — after they refused to be silenced in state legislative sessions. Republican lawmakers succeeded in expelling the Black lawmakers Pearson and Jones, with Johnson, a white woman, holding onto her seat by a margin of one vote. Pearson and Jones were ultimately sent back to the capitol by voters in their districts and continue to serve there, although the three Democrats are vastly outnumbered by a supermajority that has been characterized by many observers as far-right.

Russell was at the center of a controversy in the legislature in February when a measure to congratulate her for her Grammy win was sent to legislative purgatory by Republican members of the assembly, even as a similar resolution to congratulate the group Paramore passed without incident. Hayley Williams supported Russell and said Paramore would not be accepting the band’s honor.

The new song and video also reflect the spirit of “Love Rising,” a benefit that was held at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena last March to protest the state’s newly enacted anti-drag laws and raise money for LGBTQ+-supportive causes. That concert, partly organized by Russell, included some of the same artists who appear on the new “Tennessee Rise” single, including Morris, Howard, Shires and Byrne, along with other guests including Hozier, Jason Isbell, Sheryl Crow and Yola.

Full “Tennessee Rise” lyrics:

Hello California Morning, Hello Mississippi Dawn.

Tennessee Rise, the sleep out of your eyes

You thought tomorrow’d never come

How you wanna ride this wave mmmmm

Depends what frequency you’re on

Go and make yourself known 

I got joy in my heart this morning 

I got trouble on my mind 

Yes my people know how to feel two ways

About something at the very same time

Yeah the joy’s for the new day coming

Yeah the trouble’s for that too

Cause we’ve come so far / sooo far

But there’s so much left to do.

Hello California Morning, Hello Mississippi Dawn.

Tennessee Rise, the sleep out of your eyes

You thought tomorrow’d never come

How you wanna ride this wave mmmmm

Depends what frequency you’re on

Go and make yourself known

Tomorrow knows their own

Oh the Freedom Riders calling

Told us all to carry on

To be the ones, to be the ones

We shall not be overcome

Oh that long long Arc of Justice

That long long Arc of Peace

We Trouble these waters to be released

Come together now Tennessee

Oh The Trail of Tears is still rolling

Ole Tennessee waltzing in blood

My daughter can’t sleep for the nightmares

Every night she’s gunned down at school

Everyday she sings her wild anthems

She beats her fears out on her drums

Now she’s a wolf cub yeah she’s Harriet Tubman

Can we be brave as our children?

Hello California Morning, Hello Mississippi Dawn. 

Tennessee rise, the sleep out of our eyes

You thought tomorrow’d never come

How you wanna ride this wave mmmmm

Depends what frequency you’re on

(Go and make yourself known

Tomorrow knows their own ) x 2

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