Written and first recorded by Barbara Keith (released Sept 1970).
Hit versions by Delaney & Bonnie (US #75 May 1970), Sherbet (AUS #18 1971).
Also recorded by Barbra Streisand (1971).
From the wiki: “A singer/guitarist and folk-influenced songwriter, Barbara Keith’s curious career began when she was discovered at Greenwich Village’s famous Café Wha?. Her first appearance on record was in 1968, with her background vocals and one of her songs appearing on the self-titled debut from Kangaroo Records. Verve Records released the first of two self-titled albums in 1969.
“Keith would would initially sign with Verve for one album (1969’s Barbara Keith). Some critics fell in love with the album but as far as sales the album went nowhere. Keith switched labels to A&M Records in August/September, 1970. Her first A&M single, ‘Free the People’, was soon covered by Delaney and Bonnie, whose promotional single peaked at #75 on the Billboard Hot 100, and a year later by Barbra Streisand (for her album Stoney End that peaked at #10 on the Billboard 200 album chart in the United States, her first to reach the top 10 in five years and a marked departure from Streisand’s previous musical direction).
“Billboard magazine, in its October 3, 1970 edition, would include Keith’s 45 in its ‘Special Merit Spotlight’ noting: ‘infectious original rhythm ballad with heavy lyric line has all the earmarks of bringing Miss Keith to the charts in short order.’ Ed Ward, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, noted ‘You may remember Delaney & Bonnie’s version of this song, and how good it was. Well, Barbara [Keith is] the one who wrote the thing, and she does it up just as well as you might expect. It lacks the Salvation Army feel of the D&B rendition, substituting instead a deeply-felt intensity that shocks the listener into realizing that this is, after all, a religious song … I feel that Barbara Keith is a talent to be reckoned with, and we’ll be hearing more from her.’
“‘Free the People’ was covered in 1971 as the third single by Australian band Sherbet, from the group’s debut studio album Time Change … A Natural Progression. The song charted in Australia at #18 on the Kent Music Report.”
Delaney & Bonnie, “Free the People” (1970):
Barbra Streisand, “Free the People” (1971):
Sherbet, “Free the People” (1971):