Folk singer Joan Baez is legendary for her protest songs, having written and performed songs promoting social justice, pacifism, and civil rights over the course of her 65-year career. At age 82, she’s still singing and just went viral for her impromptu performance with Tennessee state representative Justin Jones.

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Jones, 27, and fellow representative Justin Pearson, 28, were expelled from the Republican-led Tennessee House of Representatives on April 6 after they and representative Gloria Johnson, 60, led gun reform protests on the House floor in response to the March 27 mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville.

The expulsions drew widespread criticism from across the nation, including from President Joe Biden. Jones, Pearson, and Johnson—all Democrats—became nationally known as the “Tennessee Three.” Jones and Pearson have since been temporarily reappointed to their seats pending forthcoming special elections.

justin jones, wearing a gray suit and purple shit, stands in front of the tennessee state capitol on a stage with other people, speaking into a microphone and raising a finger in the air
State representative Justin Jones speaks outside the state capitol building on April 10, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee.
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The incident drew the attention of Baez, who was in Nashville on April 8 publicizing her new book of drawings Am I Pretty When I Fly? She voiced support for the Tennessee Three during her appearance, noting that movements are driven by “little victories and big defeats” and that “changing hearts and minds requires people connecting over the little victories.”

Baez wanted to visit the state capitol to support the Tennessee Three in person but did not have time to do so. By coincidence, however, she ran into Jones at the Nashville International Airport, and the two greeted each other and recorded some songs together.

“By the time he turned around to me, I had already seen Justin, I was flying across the room” to greet him, Baez said on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “It was so exciting. It was just wonderful.”

After Jones asked Baez if she would perform some protest songs with him, they recorded videos of the two singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” and “We Shall Overcome,” both of which are key anthems associated with the Civil Rights Movement.

Baez is closely associated with the song “We Shall Overcome,” which she famously performed during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. She was 22 when she performed at the demonstration, a seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

“There are some times when you know this is going to be historic, and sometimes, you don’t know,” Baez said on the Colbert show of the 1963 demonstration. “But with 250,000, the largest crowd certainly I’d ever seen, and then the people surrounding and around Dr. King, it was electric.”

Following his expulsion, Jones was restored to the Tennessee House on April 10 when the Nashville City Council voted to reinstate him to an interim appointment pending a special election for the position. Pearson was also reinstated on April 12 by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

Expulsions are rare in American politics, and prior to Jones and Pearson, only eight representatives had been expelled in Tennessee since the Civil War. Six were expelled in 1866 for attempting to prevent ratification of the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to former slaves, while two others had previously been expelled for bribery and sexual misconduct.

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Colin McEvoy
Senior News Editor,

Colin McEvoy joined the staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.