'The sound of liberation'

1 Apr 202214

'The sound of liberation'

On Thursday evening in Washington, D.C., Bono accepted the 2021 J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding in recognition of his "commitment to seek justice by fighting to end extreme poverty, tackle global health crises, and spur economic development in the poorest parts of the planet.” 

Recipients of the Fulbright prize—including Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates, Bill Clinton, Vaclav Havel, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, and Angela Merkel—are known as 'laureates'.

Read the entire speech at Time Magazine: Bono: 'America Might Be the Greatest Song the World Has Yet to Hear.' 

"He has incredible charisma and the moral center to make people care,” Bill Gates said in a taped video greeting played before Bono delivered his acceptance speech in front of an audience filled with members of Congress, diplomats from two dozen countries, and members of the Biden Administration, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president.

'Bono is humanity's rock star,' Gates said.

'The causes Bono has devoted himself to remain all too relevant today,' Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization, said in her introduction. 'While affordable treatments have brought HIV/AIDS under control, a new pandemic has left Africans at the back of the queue for vaccines. The question is, how long must we sing this song?'

'We will need Bono to keep up his advocacy work in the months and years ahead,' said Okonjo-Iweala, the former finance minister of Nigeria who has worked closely with Bono over the years to cancel the debts of the poorest nations of the world and to intervene in the AIDS emergency that ravaged sub-Saharan Africa 20 years ago. 'No one deserves this award more than you, my brother, but you have work to do.”

In his 24-minute acceptance speech, Bono spoke of freedom, liberation, redemption and the transformative power of music in times of great upheaval.

"Rock 'n' roll, if it's anything, it is the sound of liberation,' Bono said. 'Political, spiritual, sexual—it's liberation. It's the howl, the crash-bang-wallop, the sound of a soul setting itself on fire…Liberation is at the core of who I am, not just as a singer, but as a European. It's also, I imagine on this very salubrious evening, I'm sure it's at the core of who you are as Americans. You might swap out the word freedom for the word liberation. I think we're all agreed on the concept, and we're all agreed that it's not just under siege in Ukraine now, is it?”

Ukrainians, 'are actually living, actually dying for the ideal that is freedom,' he said. 'They're fighting for our freedom, too. Now, we haven't been asked to face that test yet… [but] there's a nagging thought that maybe we've fallen asleep in the comfort of our freedom, or at least we're waking up rough. You know, our eyes are bleary, we're a little confused. The question that jolted us awake—What will we do for freedom in Ukraine?—gives way, the more we think about it, to another more uncomfortable question: How long might our own freedom last?'

Bono talked about the list of 'Songs that Saved My Life' he assembled on the occasion of his 60th birthday in 2020, and that he had missed one: 'There's another song that should be on the list: America. America is a song to me. I caught the melody line early when my life needed saving, as a teenager in Dublin. America's song came on the radio like a surge of static electricity, knocked me outta my bed, knocked me outta my head. This song sounded like Elvis, sounded like Bob Dylan, sounded like Aretha Franklin, and sounded like Johnny Cash. Joey Ramon. Sounded like Jack Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy. Sounded like King. Bob Dylan sounded like the Declaration of Independence with a harmonica and guitar.'

The late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, who established the prestigious Fulbright scholar program in 1946 and for whom the award is named, often spoke about the 'magnetism of freedom'.  The award comes with a $50,000 prize, which Bono will donate to the ONE Campaign and (RED).

'Most people my age grew up thinking the world was becoming more and more free. This was especially after the Berlin Wall came down— revolutions waged in velvet. There were exceptions, but it was as if there was a kind of moral evolution at work. It was almost like you'd have to stand in the way of freedom to stop its onward march,' Bono said. 'By the time I turned 60, it felt to a lot of my friends like freedom was no longer gathering pace. In fact, it felt like it was reversing course, retreating down some dodgy cul-de-sac.

'After January 6th in this city, I sensed a mood of grief—some spoke of the American dream dying on the steps of the capitol that chilly day. But it wasn't the American dream that was dying.' 

While visiting the Capitol earlier this week to urge lawmakers to fund emergency COVID-19 relief to distribute more vaccines to underserved countries, Bono stopped to thank a group of Capitol Hill Police for their heroism on Jan. 6, 2021. 'The American dream is alive. It was a death of a generation's innocence. And from my point of view, I was OK with that. A kind of innocence that saw progress as inevitable.'

'America might be the greatest song the world has yet to hear,' Bono continued. 'It's a wild thought. It's an exciting thought that after 246 years of this struggle for freedom, after 246 years of inching and crawling toward freedom, sometimes on your belly, sometimes on your knees, sometimes marching, sometimes striding—this might be the moment you let freedom ring or in my case, let freedom sing.'

Bono closed his remarks with an a capella version of the first verse of Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song', singing:

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever done
All I ever have
Redemption song,
Redemption songs.
Redemption songs.

'It's a question, an invocation, a provocation.'

Watch the Fulbright ceremony.
(Bono's acceptance speech begins about the 1:00:00 mark.)

This report for U2.com by Cathleen Falsani. Photo by Katie Dance.

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Bono, our inspiration, our hero
I couldn’t sleep that day to follow the live speech, I loved the meaning of each sentences. This man is incredible and so touching He is just my Superman
Great voice!
Congratulations Bono. And good to hear you singing in full force at the end of the ceremony!
A great honor for a great person. Thank you Bono for being what you are.
Bono the MAN
Congratulations Bono! It is amazing to see someone using their power of celebrity for the good of mankind. Completely selfless. Leave your ego at the door. He doesn’t need to do all that he does he genuinely wants to. That’s why for me Bono is the MAN of the century. I hope you live forever doing all that you do. Thank you.
Congratulations Bono
Congratulations Bono. Your work with One and advocacy for all of humanity is an inspiration to us all. I just watched your Walk On Tribute to Ukraine. With a tear in my eye, I agree with Ngozi, we still have a lot of work to do. Thank you for leading the way. How long must we sing this song?
The ideal that is freedom
Congratulations to Bono for this well-deserved prize! His speech is incredible and so passionate. I´m moved by the words about the liberation Rock´n´Roll symbolises. His comments about how Ukrainians have to fight for freedom now are stirring. The uncertainty how long our own freedom might last is a feeling so many people share in these days. Bono pays great tribute to America and its musical legends like Elvis, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and more. I also love his words about the daily toil and real heroism of people who work for democracy. Bono´s efforts to make vaccines against COVID-19 available to those living in underserved countries are great and so needed. In his a cappella version of Bob Marley´s Redemption Song there is so much soul and deep emotion.
Congratulations Bono
Well Deserved
Bono, ty for your humanitarian service. No need to shout out yourself. Your service and everyone involved is amazing. Thank You and may the care, and efforts continue. Peace Brother.
Message from Masiey and the Deep
I loved your comment 'let freedom sing' and your reference to lyrics of Redemption. Huge congrats, much deserved. In that sentiment, Bono, I wanted to tell you we, new Irish band, (www.maiseyandthedeep.com) wrote a song and produced a video called 'Daughters of Ukraine'. https://www.gofundme.com/f/daughters-of-ukraine...All funds are to help save lives of Ukraine children and go to the Irish Red Cross. I understand that we may be the first solo band in the world to release an original single. Would love if you could have a listen and help us to promote. Especially given President Zelensky's call to the music industry at last nights Grammys - to tell the truth about what's happening in Ukraine. Any help would be much appreciated. Best, Maisey
Congratulations Bono, and thank you for the great person you are... God Bless you!!!
Congrats Bono!
He should 've gotten the Nobel prize for peace years ago!
How I met Bob Marley at the Zoo tv tour
The first time I heard Redemption song, it was july 1993. I was in Verona at the Zoo TV tour. Bono sang it just with his guitar- and broke my heart. I used to listen to Bob Marley but I didn't know this song. Then I studied it, wrote about it and now, after almost 30 years, I am proud to say that I have understood the deep and beautiful meaning of Redemption song. But without U2, probably I wouldn't have met it. As usual, you showed me the way and I am grateful for it.
An honour.
What an honour for Bono. It is great to hear and see that so many people hold him and keep holding him in high esteem. Great.
Congratulations Bono!
Well deserved! So proud of you - yes, I did stayed up late, always for you and was worth it! Stay safe! God bless you! Until we meet again - hopefully soon. Love from Hamburg (ger), sonja
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