Musicians are among the most earnest activists on the planet. The more successful ones have the money and influence to help spread their message, and the stages upon which to expound upon them in front of their adoring masses. Ever since Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan first started expanding on the notion of artists as populist pundits in the ‘50s and ‘60s, an ever increasing number of musicians have taken up banners of their own and crusaded with passion and purpose. Here are 10 musicians who are pointedly preaching on behalf of some specific causes today.
1. Emmylou Harris
Cause: Lover of Animals and Compassion Animal Rescue Advocate
Emmylou Harris’ love for homeless animals knows no bounds. She not only takes her own dogs on tour with her, but she often parades them across the stage at the end of her concerts, sharing the message that adopting a pet from a neighborhood shelter is an honorable and rewarding thing to do. Those who contribute to the cause are often given special perks at her shows, including the ability to meet her backstage, take a photo with her and get an autograph, as well. In addition to being a long-time Best Friends supporter, she founded Bonaparte’s Retreat, a Nashville-based dog rescue organization, and Crossroads Campus where both people in need and animals in need can help each other prepare for the future. Her own fundraising event, aptly dubbed Woofstock, helped with raising funds for the cause, but in truth, hardly a day goes by where Harris isn’t doing something good by barking up the right tree.
2. Neil Young
Bridge School Booster and FarmAid Founder
Neil Young and his wife Pegi founded the Bridge School in honor of their two autistic sons Ben and Zeke, as well as their epileptic daughter Carrie. And for the past 30 years, they’ve hosted a series of special concerts that have been raising funds for the school. The all-star events that take place annually in Mountain View, Calif. include performances by Young himself and a host of famous friends and fellow performers. According to the organization’s website, “The Bridge School is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities through the use of augmentative & alternative means of communication and assistive technology applications and through the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative life-long educational strategies. The Bridge School is an internationally recognized leader in the education of children who use augmentative and alternative communication and has developed unique programs and trained highly skilled professionals in the use of state of the art assistive technology.” Young also helped found FarmAid, an organization that helps and support America’s small farmers (but more on that later.) His humanitarian efforts prompted the group People for the American Way to award him their Spirit of Liberty award in 2001, after which he won MusiCares Person of the Year honors in 2010. Long may he run.
3. Cyndi Lauper
Cause: Enthusiastic Advocate for LGBT Rights and Awareness
Lauper’s activism on behalf of gay, bisexual and transgender Americans has always been steadfast, not only due to the fact that her sister is a lesbian, but also because she believes that hate and discrimination need to be stopped. She successfully campaigned to urge congress to pass a bill specifically protecting members of that community and partnered with the Human Rights Coalition to eradicate unfair treatment of anyone based on sexual preference. “It’s always wrong to discriminate,” the Grammy winner has said. “I grew up in the civil rights movement. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.” Her True Colors tour in the mid-2000s helped raised awareness, but in the days since the massacre in Orlando, she’s found it necessary to become more outspoken than ever.
4. Bruce Springsteen
Causes: Food Bank Supporter, Vote for Change Veteran, Amnesty International Advocate
The Boss is no slacker when it comes to rallying the troops to turn out for a great cause. His list of concerns is literally a who and what of profound social commitments, and they’ve found him advocating for MoveOn.org, Vote for Change, and America Coming Together as a means of encouraging people to get out and vote. While he’s sometimes hesitated to give any candidate a direct endorsement, he did lend his support to John Kerry in 2004 and performed at President Obama’s inauguration four years later. He later campaigned on behalf of President Obama’s re-election in 2012. Likewise, he’s repaid New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s unabashed adulation with unconditional repudiation of his principles. Amnesty International, the fight against the expansion of nuclear power, Vietnam Veterans and local food banks also top his list of favorite causes, and it’s not unusual to find him promoting support for those efforts during his concerts. While he does tend to get a bit preachy at times, his philanthropic efforts have brought special recognition in the form of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2009 and his designation as the MusicCares honoree for 2013.
5. Ted Nugent
Causes: Proud Republican, Straight Shooter on Behalf of The National Rifle Association, Anti-drug Advocate
Call him The Nuge, call him the Motor City Madman, call him whatever you’d like—and lots of people do—but one thing you can’t call him is passive. A rarity among rockers, Nugent’s definitely leans right of center. Despite his adamant opposition to gun control, drugs of any kind and PETA in particular (diatribes that have occasionally drawn accusations of racism and abject extremism) Nugent conveys his thoughts with absolute certainty. Just look up his thoughts on this year’s presidential race.
6. Paul McCartney
Causes: A Virulent Vegan Who Loathes Landmines
In truth, Sir Paul has never scrimped when it comes to supporting causes he believes in. The list of charities he’s associated himself with number several dozen, with PETA, Adopt a Minefield, Save the Arctic, The Humane Society, World Animal Protection and the effort to eliminate seal hunting all near the top of the list. He’s appeared at practically every charitable concert of significance, from Live Aid and Live 8 to the Concert for the People of Kampuchea, and The Concert for New York City. However it’s his efforts to eradicate land mines in places where they where left buried in the aftermath of some savage struggle that concerns him the most. He’s also a staunch believer in vegetarianism who’s made several ads urging people to refrain from eating meat. He says that his conversion took place when he and his late wife Linda were eating a plate of lamb and then happened to notice the lamb that were grazing in their farm fields. In a way, the two causes go hand in hand. Both are a reaction against killing, whether it be human or beast. Clearly, within this Beatle there beats a heart of gold.
7. Chrissie Hynde
Cause: When it comes to PETA, Chrissie’s no pretender
Hynde puts herself on the line. In 2000, she was arrested during a protest organized by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after she started slashing up leather goods at a Gap store in downtown Manhattan. She once said that becoming a vegetarian was the best thing that ever happened to her, and while she manages to co-exist with carnivores, she views them with distaste and contempt. C’mon Chrissie, how do you really feel?
8. Tom Morello
Wall Street Refusenik
Morello is a diehard activist and a co-founder of Axis of Justice, a group dedicated to spreading a take on the truth that he claims the media often avoids. “Media consolidation needs smashing and globalization needs unmasking,” he insists. “When presidents and politicians lie, it is the job of the press to expose those lies. When the press fails, the gangstas come out from hiding. The lie becomes the law.” Consequently, it was little surprise to find him an eager participant in the Tell Us the Truth Tour. While he was with the band Rage Against the Machine, he came out against the “Parental Advisory” sticker on explicit albums and singles, the lynchpin of the initiative undertaken by the Parents Music Resource Center. At Lollapalooza 1993, the band took the stage naked, their mouths covered in duct tape, and the initials PMRC painted on their bodies while they created feedback to wail around them. Other causes of note include his support of Occupy Wall Street, immigration reform, inclusion of third party candidates in presidential debates, support for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and efforts to raise the minimum raise. His efforts in support of organized labor garnered him the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 2006. Yet when vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan declared himself a fan of Rage Against the Machine in 2012, Morello quickly squashed the notion of any reciprocal admiration, claiming that Ryan represented everything the band raged against.
9. John Mellencamp
Cause: All for Family Farmers
A co-founder of FarmAid, along with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, Mellencamp has been a passionate advocate for family farmers for the past 30 years. The organization began with a concert in Champaign, Ill. designed to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to help raise funds to allow farm families to keep their land. Since then, the concerts have raised over $50 million for the cause, and when Mellencamp and Nelson testified before Congress, the results were just as spectacular. Their appearance encouraged Congress to pass the Agricultural Credit act of 1987, a bill designed to keep farm families from foreclosure.
10. Willie Nelson
Cause: Just a NORML kind of guy
Even if he wasn’t actively involved, Willie would probably be a supporter of NORML just by default. Yeah, even at age 80, the man likes his weed. So it is that we defer to the organization’s website as they express their appreciation for Willie’s steadfast support of legalizing weed for recreational use: “NORML’s long-time supporter and Advisory Board member, and possibly America’s most famous and beloved cannabis smoker, Willie Nelson is doing remarkable things to ‘normalize’ cannabis in the eyes of the American public. If you support reforming cannabis laws, one can marvel at Willie, who, at over 80 years of age, lives an honest and transparent existence regarding his enjoyment derived from decades of cannabis use.” Smoke it if you got it…if not, Willie will.