Founding Member of the Rock Band Rascals Receives Free Speech in Music Award


Photo: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Felix Cavaliere during a performance in 2019. Publicity photo by Leon Volskis.

Story by Sam Long | Assistant Editor

All the world over, so easy to see / People everywhere just want a be free.

“People Got to be Free” by the Rascals

It’s the 1960s and civil rights issues are rapidly coming to a tipping point. In the middle of the most famous era of protest music, founding member of rock band the Rascals, Felix Cavaliere and his group began writing the controversial hit “People Got to Be Free.” 

The single champions community and references the group’s commitment to on-stage diversity. Released just weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the song came as a plea for musical equality. The band demanded that allow shows be racially-balanced or else they wouldn’t show up.

The hit spent five weeks atop the Billboard Pop Singles chart, the group’s longest charting single. It eventually was certified as a gold record by the Recording Industry Association of America on August 23, 1968 and would go on to sell over 4 million copies.

For his efforts towards social equality in music, Cavaliere received the Free Speech in Music Award in an evening of music and celebration on February 23 at Tucker Theatre. 

The honor recognizes artists who have used their talents, fame and visibility to address important social issues and who have demonstrated the power of music as a form of free speech.

“I believe in the power of words and expression and couldn’t be more honored to be named a recipient of the Free Speech in Music Award,” he said. “It seems there is always a time that our First Amendment rights are being threatened, and I’m truly grateful to play my part in keeping its torch burning bright.”

Dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, Beverly Keel, said, “This is such a fitting tribute to Felix Cavaliere, who is an important figure in popular music history. As our students learn in their classes, his music has served as a bridge connecting generations.”

The event comes just before Cavaliere’s upcoming release of his autobiography “Memoir of a Rascal,” coming March 22, 2022. The book is available for pre-order here.

Listen to the controversial hit, “People Got to Be Free,” below.

The Rascals – People Got To Be Free

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