Giving Voice

Produced December 06, 2017 | Updated: April 17, 2019

Alumna Anne Buckle (’11) is using her education to teach teen refugees to express themselves.

Anne Buckle sits in a circle with teens who all have guitars
Anne Buckle, founder of 3 Chords, works with a group of refugees teaching guitar, singing, and songwriting.

Singer-songwriter Anne Buckle (’11) first became interested in refugees at an arts in education conference in 2016. When a presenter said one in every 122 people is a refugee, “it shook me,” she recalls. “I was almost in tears.”

Buckle responded by signing up with World Relief Nashville to tutor refugees in English. She quickly learned how the teens struggled to fit into their new country.

a boy strums a guitar in a circle with other teens who have instruments
Each teen in 3 Chords learns to play a musical instrument.

“In my life, songwriting is the way that I feel most understood,” she says. “If I feel sad, I write a song and put it out to the world, and I don’t feel sad anymore.”

To give the refugees an outlet for musical expression, she founded a non-profit called 3 Chords. The name comes from songwriter Harlan Howard’s often-quoted description of country songs as “three chords and the truth.”

teens writing songs
They also learn to write original songs.

Buckle began meeting with the teens once a week for an hour and a half. “I had students from the Congo, Burma, Iraq, Nepal, and Thailand,” she says. “We learned the structure of songs and how to play the guitar. The hardest thing for some of them was rhyming, since their accents made words sound differently. They wrote songs about missing home, about life being hard, about heartbreak.”

a teen girl plays guitar in a circle with other teens
3 Chords helps the teens build community with each other and in Nashville.

Anne Buckle was born into one of country music’s most famous families; she is a great-great-niece of A.P. Carter and a cousin of June Carter Cash.

When Buckle was a child, she played music with June and Johnny Cash. She was given her first fiddle at age five, and she recorded an album of fiddle tunes and Carter Family songs when she was 14.

Anne Buckle joins students singing and playing ukuleles.
Anne Buckle joins students singing and playing ukuleles.

At UT, Buckle earned two bachelor’s degrees—one in vocal music education and one in international relations. She also received the university’s highest student award, the Torchbearer, due in part to her service as a volunteer tutor and music instructor.

With the addition of a master’s in education from Harvard, Buckle’s experience and education formed the perfect foundation for her work with refugees.

As the culmination of her first 3 Chords course, seven of Buckle’s students sang their own songs on an album. South by Sea Studios donated a day of studio time for the effort, and 12 musicians and engineers along with six guest singer-songwriters volunteered their talent.

Buckle completed the album in spring 2018 and began teaching another group of refugee teenagers.

“It gives the kids a platform to be heard,” she says, “and provides the community an opportunity to see refugees in a new light. I definitely believe in the possibility of this being a bridge of perception between Americans and refugees, who are really just normal people looking for a better life here.”

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.