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This Arkansas program helps vets turn troubled times into songs

Freedom Sings Arkansas pairs musicians with veterans, providing them with an outlet to process troubling times as it's turned into recorded songs.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A hit song can speak to, and for a lot of people, but Paul Tull and Don Tucker have proven that a song can be powerful even for an audience of one.

The pair of musician songwriters are part of Freedom Sings Arkansas, a collaboration that doesn't seek chart-toppers, but instead for tunes that can soothe troubled minds.

"We pair the military veteran with songwriters and we allow the veteran to tell their story," said Paul Tull, the director of the non-profit's local chapter. "We take the song from their own words, 100 percent approved by the veteran, and then we have the song recorded."

When the duo played the song "We Put It All On The Line", the listener will hear very specific lyrics about a very specific family.

It's a song that shows the process of sharing their experiences is rarely about vanity, nor is it about posterity—  for the people who sign up, it's often a form of therapy.

"A lot of them, that's the first opportunity they've had to share that story because a lot of them hold it in," said Tucker. "And so a lot of the veterans find it therapeutic just to get the story out."

And that process can be difficult.

"It was gut-wrenching," said Carlos Cervantes, a Vietnam veteran who serves as seargent-at-arms for the organization. He put two of his own troubling memories into music.

"Brothers and Sisters in Green" is a driving rock song about a racist soldier saved by a blood transfusion from Black, Mexican and Jewish comrades. His second song recalls seeing a respected officer die in a helicopter mishap.

It's the kind of stuff years of psychiatric help couldn't crack, but three bars and a chorus somehow did.

"So it was gratifying, peaceful, and something that had to be said to relieve myself," said Cervantes.

The national organization Freedom Sings USA was founded by high-powered Nashville songwriters with Arkansas roots— Steve Dean and Don Goodman.

Dean is an Arkansas native with six Billboard chart-toppers to his credit, while Goodman wrote Blake Shelton's "Ol' Red" and Alabama's "Angels Among Us."

Those Arkansas ties are part of the reason they appeared and are credited with writing many of the local chapters' works.

You can catch Tucker and Tull playing for audiences big and small around central Arkansas. Those gigs pay their bills, but Freedom Sings seems to offer a bigger payoff.

Many of the collaborations emerged from songwriting retreats, where musicians and veterans paired off to see what happens.

The pandemic shut down many of them, but the group has planned a triumphant return on August 25 & 26 at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock.

"We write with Gold Star Families. We write with active military personnel. We just want to tell your military story in your own words," said Tull.

If you are a U.S. military veteran, active duty service member, or a Gold Star Family member and want more information on how to participate, please email FreedomSingsArkansasOrg@gmail.com.

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