In fall of 1995, more than 60 female musicians traveled to Capitol Records in Los Angeles, where they recorded both the vocals and the visuals to the ground-breaking single, “Freedom“, on the same day. The single was the title track to the Mario Van Peebles directed movie, ‘Panther‘, based on the Black Panther Party.
Women’s publication Zora gave us a well documented account of events of how this historic masterpiece came together. The song was originally recorded by the singer Joi for her debut album, produced by Dallas Austin. It was later picked up, reconceptualized, and released as ‘Panther‘’s official theme song.
Former label executive Ed Ecksein says having a record featuring all women sent a message about the film before it even hit theaters. “The power behind the organization was women. The backbone behind the organization was women,” he says. “So we needed to do something similar on the soundtrack as we did for the BMU record (Black Men United).”
The actual day of the track’s recording required ultimate levels of coordination and an understanding of how and why to stagger artists’ arrivals and recording schedules to avoid overlaps. There were camera crews, food service, hair and makeup, but no egos in sight.
Even with stars like Queen Latifah, Vanessa Williams, MC Lyte, Mary J Blige, Aaliyah, Brownstone, Salt-N-Pepa, Patra, XScape, and En Vogue in the house, A&R Sam Sapp remembers this remarkable tidbit: “Everyone was in the same room, and there was no VIP area.”
TLC were determined to be a part of this amazing project but were unable to be there at the same time as the other artists, so they recorded their parts at a later date and were edited into the final mix.
In order to work around Left Eye‘s probation-related travel restrictions Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins says the trio recorded vocals in a local Atlanta studio and filmed the video from the conference room at LaFace Records.
“It was the most amazing thing to have my fist pumped and have on this hat that had a Black ballplayer and a ball on the front and represent,” she says. “It made you feel so proud to be Black. It was an awesome thing to be a part of.”
The record was also a game changer in that both an R&B and a rap version were featured on the soundtrack. Sapp says artists were freestyling to the instrumental while waiting to record, and they commissioned the “Dallas’ Dirty Half Dozen Mix” on the spot.
The “Freedom” single was a top charter on the ‘Panther’ soundtrack, peaking at #10 on Billboard’s R&B Singles Chart and snagging the #45 spot on the Hot 100.
While there may not be as many Black women artists today, they are still making their mark in music. For the first time in history, four Black female soloists recently occupied the Hot 100’s top two slots (Doja Cat‘s “Say So” remix with Nicki Minaj took the top spot, with Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce‘s “Savage” remix at the second spot).
As for another Black woman collective recording in the future, “Freedom” artists are passing the torch.
“It should be another song now with the new generation of artists that would show people that we’re sticking together,” T-Boz says. “I think it’s needed again, especially with the state of the world today.”
Read the full story from Zora here.
Artists featured on “Freedom”:
Aaliyah, Amel Larrieux, Brownstone, Jade, Blackgirl, SWV, Monica, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Mary J Blige, Tanya Blount, Changing Faces, En Vogue, TLC, Felicia Adams, Joi, N’Dea Davenport, For Real, Zhane, Eshe, Queen Latifah, Billy Lawrence, Lalah Hathaway, Brigette McWilliams, Miss Jones, Me’Shell NdegéOcello, Pebbles, Patra, Chantay Savage, Sonja Marie, Xscape, Terri & Monica, Y?N-Vee, Vanessa Williams, Karyn White, Caron Wheeler, Crystal Waters, Vybe, Tracie Spencer, Brenda Russell, Sweet Sable, Raja-Nee, Pure Soul, Nefertiti, Natasha, Yo-Yo, Cindy Mizelle, Milira, Da 5 Footaz, Emage, E.V.E, Penny Ford, Jazzyfatnastees.