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Singer Elvis Costello Defends Outspoken Artists

British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello on Tuesday defended musicians who speak their minds in these “fairly dangerous times” and warned Americans to guard against “any attempts by people who swindle their way into office.”

Addressing a music industry dinner in Beverly Hills, California, Costello also criticized the British political system, which he described as “privileged people handing wigs to one another making the laws of the land.”

The 48-year-old musician, famed for such songs as “Oliver’s Army” and “Everyday I Write the Book,” was being honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, a music licensing group that also campaigns for artists’ rights.

Costello drew loud cheers from the black-tie audience, which included songwriters Stevie Wonder, Rick James, Burt Bacharach, Solomon Burke and Nelly.

His comments came amid concerns that singers and actors who spoke out against the U.S.-led war in Iraq were being blacklisted.

When the lead singer of popular country trio the Dixie Chicks criticized President Bush, many U.S. radio stations all but stopped playing the group’s songs.

“We all live in fairly dangerous times in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” Costello said.

“A lot of the songwriters that I’ve admired and learned from… are people who spoke in matters of conscience as well as matters of the heart. I think that it’s essential that we defend that right.”

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