The Kitchen Musician ~ March 2017

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Hello friends. There are many things that made growing up difficult for me, but my race was not one of them. My song this month touches upon a topic that is difficult for me to come to grips with. I invite you to get uncomfortable with me. Let’s meet at the kitchen table.

  This Month’s Music: Liberty and Justice for All
  Upcoming Shows
  Featured Non-Profit: Southern Poverty Law Center

Tom and Seth Connelly at Amazing Things Arts Center.
Photo: © 2017 Peter Fischman


ANNOUNCING! My daughter Mally Smith has been writing some great stuff since she put out her most recent album Mally Smith and the Fertile Void. This week she has announced her new recording project. I will let her speak for herself. If you would like to support to this worthy project, please CLICK HERE!

This Month’s Music
Liberty and Justice for All

Liberty and Justice for All
© 2017 Tom Smith (ASCAP)
Click the image above to play the video.
Lyrics in the comments section below.

Note: This song is revised from the original. The message is the same. Let me know if you would like to hear the original. – Tom

I grew up in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania. My father was a long haul truck driver so he was on the road a lot more than he was home – except when he was laid off from work, which was quite often. To make ends meet, my mother was a night shift nurse at the state mental hospital. I worked on the farm down the road and was paid in milk, which a family with four boys consumed in great quantities. I hunted rabbit, squirrel and other small game not for sport, but to add meat to our macaroni supper. Times were tough.

As an adult, I learned about something called “white privilege”. Being a socially liberal educator I was quick to acknowledge that it does exist, but of course it didn’t apply to me. I worked hard for everything I got. Nobody gave me nothin’. It took me a long time to understand that although I did work hard, my race did not prevent me from choosing where I wanted to go to college, to work, to live, get a loan and more. When my car broke down at 1:00 am, I welcomed the sight of the police car. I didn’t have to wonder if the officer approaching me would draw his gun because my skin color gave him a warning. The list goes on.

While rampant racism has been obvious to people of color since our country was founded, many white folks in liberal states like mine often conveniently render it to theoretical conversation… until now. The 2016 election and its aftermath has brought racism into full view.

As a songwriter, I tend to use music as a way to process things that are difficult for me to understand or deal with. Frankly, I am not comfortable writing about white privilege, especially in a public way like this. In my experience, this is an incendiary subject among both my white and black friends, colleagues and acquaintances. But I also understand that I have the privilege of avoiding this subject if I choose to, while my friends of color must live it every day. My discomfort is a small price to pay.

Last week I shared the first draft of this song with some good folks at a songwriters’ retreat in Maine. They were helpful to the progress of this song. All are great songwriters and socially astute – but they are also white. I decided to share the second draft with several friends of color whom I know to be thoughtful on the subject of race. I like to think of myself as empathetic but I was surprised that there was a great deal in that song which was taken in exactly the opposite way I intended. What I thought was ironic was interpreted literally. Words I intended as poetic were charged with unintended racial overtones. Gratefully, these folks were both kind and honest in their feedback. They helped me adjust the message in my song in ways I hope they can accept as a small step in the right direction.

The good folks who helped me with this song are Jud Caswell, Susan Cattaneo, Ruth Hill, Wanda Holland Greene, O.B. O’Brien, Licia Sky, Margo Smith, and Liza Talusan. Thank you!

I present this song as a simple personal testimony in my journey of thinking about race. Thank you for listening with your heart, and joining the conversation. I urge you to take action in your own lives on this important subject.

Carry on!


(If so inclined, I invite you to leave a comment by scrolling to the end of this page.)

Upcoming Shows

April 22, 2017 @ 12:00 pm: New England Folk Festival, Mansfield, MA
Returning to the New England Folk Festival, performing a set entitled “New Songs from Old Traditions” with my good friends Peter Fischman and Deb O’Hanlon. Following this show, I join the Children’s Music Network for a program of songs for people of the younger persuasion.

April 22, 2017 @ 7:00 pm: NH Songwriters, Concord, NH
Featuring at the monthly meeting of the New Hampshire Songwriters, sharing my songs and some discussion about songwriting. If you are interested in attending, please contact Chris O’Connor via e-mail at

May 3, 2017 @ 7:30 pm: Club Passim, Cambridge, MA
Opening for Texas songwriter, Billy Crocket.

May 6, 2017: Recording, 502Sessions, Dedham Cable TV
Recording an episode for Emmy-nominated TV show “502 Sessions” with host Brian Kirby.

May 12, 2017 @ 8:00 pm: Dedham Square Coffeehouse, Dedham, MA
Splitting the evening with my good friend, Craig Sonnenfeld.

May 13, 2017 @ 7:00 pm: Javawocky Coffeehouse, Brockton, MA
Opening for Kim and Reggie Harris.

July 22, 2017 @ 6:00 pm: Soule Homestead, Middleborough, MA
Opening for Kerri Powers.

Click to view details for all upcoming shows.

Featured Non-profit: Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.

Please join me in supporting the SPLC.

  • Tom
    March 8, 2017

    Liberty and Justice for All
    © 2017 Tom Smith (ASCAP)

    When I looked up to the flag
    My young hand upon my breast
    Proud of the nation that we had
    I swore allegiance with a pledge
        Written on my classroom wall
        “With liberty and justice for all”

    All my goals were in my sight
    What I worked for I could win
    I knew my future would be bright
    A privilege granted by my skin
        On the white side of the wall
        I saw liberty and justice for all

    Now hatred has removed its mask
    Emboldened by the choice we made
    The stars and bars flies from the mast
    We fortify our barricades
        Can we boast of freedom behind walls
        Without liberty and justice for all?

    Now as I look upon the flag
    Scarred by anger and by greed
    I unfurl that tattered rag
    To raise a dream I still believe
        I pledge to tear down my walls
        To build liberty and justice for all

    • Simon Bunyard
      March 9, 2017

      Really poignant song, Tom, and so timely given the politics of the moment (I hope it is just momentary, anyway). Thank you for being the stalwart soul that speaks such goodness to the world. I feel you do it for all of us.

      • Tom
        March 9, 2017

        Thank you Simon. It is a journey worth the effort. Walk on!

  • Vicky Harris
    March 9, 2017

    Dear Tom

    I would like to see the early version if you are inclined to share privately. I am a songwriter and am interested in the two perspectives. The final version is great. If I were to make one change it would be to change the last chorus to present tense… I pledge

    I am Fb friend of Licias through Laura Vecchione. Many thanks for sharing. Very difficult to write a good “protest song” and I think you’ve nailed it. Great performance of it as well.

    • Tom
      March 9, 2017

      Hello Vicky. Thank you for your kind comment. That is an excellent suggestion too. It does strengthen the message. I will be in touch offline.

  • Deborah Goss
    March 9, 2017

    Your words “But I also understand that I have the privilege of avoiding this subject if I choose to, while my friends of color must live it every day.” made me cry. Seems impossible that most folks can’t see that – now – but I never really ‘got’ it before a 30 year friendship that has shown me first hand how ‘suspect’ people of color are every day and has made me worry for certain friends on more than one occasion. – but of course, mostly, it barely touches my life.
    Keep on writing and singing however it comes out. In the old days sympathetic whites wrote and sang songs (with some very pretty, familiar tunes) that told of specific, dramatic wrongs and there are many anti-slavery political party tunes that were condemned roundly as ‘inappropriate’ at concerts that were supposed to be beautiful music only and not ‘upsetting’ to sensitive ears. And more than just spirituals were written by both formerly enslaved, and free citizens of African ancestry. I MUST give you my CD – it’ll give you an idea. I’m doing programs (Sweet Freedom’s Songs) in NH for the Humanities Council in April and May, hopefully others in future – maybe you can catch one. May bring some of the songs to open mikes again too. I’ve been researching and reading for years and have barely scratched the surface because there are so many aspects to all this. See you again soon! -Deb

    • Tom
      March 9, 2017

      Hello Deb,
      Thank you for your comments. I am sure that you can read my doubts about sharing this song and the process of writing it, which was rather uncomfortable at times. I still am not confident that the message I was trying to communicate is the one listeners will take from it. But it comforts me to know that it touched a chord in your own experience. And yes indeed, I would love to learn more about your research into historical songs on the subject!
      We carry on.

  • Volkert
    March 9, 2017

    Thank you for baring your soul, my friend. I think you have just written your masterpiece.

    • Tom
      March 9, 2017

      Thank you for your very kind comments, Volkert. Life is a journey. Glad that you are part of mine.

  • Dennis Pearne
    March 9, 2017

    Like I said to you last week at Amazing Things, Tom, this song is needed to help define the next eight years. Great job.

    • Tom
      March 9, 2017

      Hi Dennis. Thank you. There is no higher compliment to a songwriter than when another songwriter says that a song has spoken to him or her deeply. Steady on!

  • Cooper
    March 9, 2017

    Kudos. Again

    • Tom
      March 9, 2017

      Thanks Coop! Miss you.

  • O.B. O'Brien
    March 9, 2017

    Dammit, Tom, how the heck am I supposed to write my own songs when your song keeps repeating in my head?!?

    Great song, very timely. Hope to hear you out there soon.

    • Tom
      March 9, 2017

      Thank you for your contributions to the progress of this song, O.B. Very grateful!

  • Peg Espinola
    March 9, 2017

    Great song, Tom. I would expect no less of you. And your introduction is very thoughtful and made me think of my own life, and what I took for granted for myself, even while I fought for civil rights for others–it was exciting, it made me feel good, but when it was too inconvenient, I could opt out. I also absolutely love your accompaniment, those very cool chords! And the spareness of it.

    • Tom
      March 9, 2017

      Thank you Peg. I know that you have never shied away from service to benefit folks of every race and sexual orientation. Grateful for all that you have done and are doing. But it is a kind of uncomfortable realization that no matter how hard one works for equity in all of its forms, if we ourselves are the beneficiaries of privilege, our lives are very different from those who live it every day. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  • Kim Moberg
    March 9, 2017

    “on the white side of the wall”……what a powerful line! I think you were courageous to write and share this song. As a person who has been prejudged based on how I look, I thank you.

    • Tom
      March 9, 2017

      Thank you for commenting, Kim. I am pleased to know that this song has spoken to you in some way. Carry on!

  • Patricia Shih
    March 10, 2017

    WONDERFUL song Tom. I love everything about it. I just want to share a video of my song “Three Butterflies” which deals with the same subject but is written for children. I believe you have to start teaching people while they are very young; you teach them to either hate, or love.

    I believe working and singing with children is my most important job. As good old Pete Seeger once said, “Singing with children in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”

    Three Butterflies –

    • Tom
      March 10, 2017

      Thank you for your kind comment and the link to your video. I agree with Pete!

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