The music business often seems centered around the glitzy, glamorous lifestyle. Popular award ceremonies tend to highlight the who’s who of music fame, while the charts are dominated by songs that are, generally, easily digested by the listening public.
Beyond this superficial shell, however, are plenty of songs and songwriters addressing real, everyday issues. From Michael Jackson's slew of songs dedicated to healing the world to megastars such as Elton John being involved with various charities, the music community has its own set of capeless heroes. Stars who reach out a helping hand in compassion as often as possible, in an effort to make the world a brighter place.
The following songwriters - in no particular order - are among those who have given back in one way or another, whether in the songs they have written, the things they have done that convey deep compassion, or both.
The lead man for U2 is one of the most well-known music stars, not only for music achievements but also for his philanthropic streak. Bono has donated to charities all over the globe, as well as helped to set up some. These include Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa (DATA), aimed at addressing many of the challenges facing the continent. He has also performed at many events where the proceeds have been donated to numerous charities.
Rap superstar Eminem has built his reputation on being one of the meanest lyricists in the game. But his softer side has been exposed a few times. On one of the most recent occasions, the self-titled rap god was alerted to a social media campaign surrounding Gage Garmo, a 17-year-old fan who was suffering from a rare case of bone cancer. Eminem responded to the request of the hashtag #GetGageGarmoToMeetEminem, flying to Michigan so he could meet Garmo. The musician requested that his visit to Garmo be kept out of the media (although they somehow found out) and spent about an hour of his time fulfilling the teen’s request. Garmo died soon after Em’s visit but at least the "Lose Yourself" rapper was able to fulfill his dying wish.
3. Nile Rodgers
One of the most celebrated and awarded songwriters, Rodgers has contributed much to music. Along with his band Chic, Nile has also used his fame for good. For instance, he and longtime partner Nancy Hunt started the We Are Family Foundation in response to the 9/11 attacks. This charity has attracted a lot of attention over the years; In 2016, Rodgers teamed up with Bono of U2 to raise $1 million for the We Are Family Foundation dinner. More recently, Rodgers has also thrown his support behind the UK Charity Key4Life. It’s a charity that aims to help reduce gang warfare and offences among youth in the UK who are ex-offenders, through an innovative rehabilitation program.
4. Darden Smith
Although not the most famous songwriter on this list, Smith’s charitable acts are just as impressive. His most notable accomplishment is the launching of Songwriting With Soldiers, a charitable organization that is committed to helping soldiers, their families, and communities, deal with the repercussions of serving in the army. The movement pairs vets and current service members with professional songwriters who help them turn their experiences and thoughts into songs, a rather therapeutic experience.
5. Sia Furler
She has spent much of her life writing hit songs for other artists but Sia Furler has also lent her time and talent to many charitable causes. These include her association with The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), aimed at raising awareness about dog adoption, as well as her contribution to Wildlife Alliance during the season finale of CBS’s Survivor in 2016. You guessed it, she’s an animal lover.
6. Lori McKenna
The compassionate side of Grammy winner and longtime country sensation, Lori McKenna, is often exposed in the lyrics of some of the songs she has written. “Humble and Kind,” which became a huge hit for Tim McGraw, is just one example. McKenna has also participated in charitable causes, such as Casting For Recovery, a program that provides nature retreats at no cost to breast cancer survivors, in order to promote mental and physical healing.
7. Taylor Swift
Known for topping charts and breaking hearts, Taylor Swift also has a compassionate side. For instance, the “Shake It Off” singer once donated a million dollars to help people in Louisiana who had been affected by a flood in 2016. Swift, who also has a history of surprising fans on social media, once replied to a video message from one of her sick fans, with a video of her own, and a $50K donation towards the fan’s medical bills (she was suffering from leukemia).
Beyoncé’s philanthropic efforts and charitable acts are well-known to the wider public. Among her most compassionate displays include donating a reported $7 million dollars to help victims of a massive flood in Houston, as well as giving of her time as a volunteer at shelters. She has also partnered with the United Nations, particularly on the song “I Was Here,” which highlighted World Humanitarian Day in 2012 and shed light on the efforts of humanitarian workers in assisting people who have been affected by natural and man-made disasters.
9. John Mayer
A genuine rock star, Mayer has also been involved in several acts of kindness. To begin with, he is the founder of Back To You, a charity that aims to raise money from auctioning branded John Mayer items such as t-shirts and signed CDs. He also donated one of his songs, “Say,” to a charitable cause and recently launched the Heart and Armor Foundation, which focuses on helping army vets suffering from PTSD.
10. Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran is not only prolific at hit making, he is also notorious for being kind. His compassionate acts include donating to a bevy of charities, including Charity:Water and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. In addition, Sheeran has been known to give profusely to local causes such as children’s hospitals and even donating his own clothes to several charity setups.
11. Miley Cyrus
Following her controversial breakout phase in 2013, many people would probably be surprised that Miley Cyrus has a huge benevolent streak. But Cyrus has had a long history of compassionate acts during her life as a celebrity. Most recently, she – along with Liam Hemsworth – donated $500,000 to the Malibu Foundation in response to the California Wildfires in 2018. This, despite having lost her own home in the monster blaze. In addition, she donates to a long list of causes, ranging from human rights to homelessness. On one occasion, she invited a homeless young man, Jesse Helt, to accept a VMA on her behalf, in the process, shedding light on the problems faced by homeless people in the US.
12. Jon Bon Jovi
Well-known for his JBJ Soul Foundation, which has helped thousands of people find affordable housing, Jon Bon Jovi is another artist who has had a long association with charitable acts. His kindness extends to many causes, including the fight against AIDS and supporting the Special Olympics. One of his most publicized charitable acts is setting up the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen, which allows people to pay whatever they can afford for meals. The establishment is run by volunteers, including Jon himself, who occasionally jumps into the kitchen.
13. Ariana Grande
Pop princess Ariana Grande was the headline act at a concert in Manchester, England, where people were killed and hundreds injured from a suicide bombing. However, the “Dangerous Woman” singer decided to not be a victim. Instead, she staged a star-studded benefit concert that raised $13 million for those affected. Beyond that, the young superstar has donated to various charities, including the Cancer Research Institute, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
14. Matthew West
Matthew West is a well-known Christian artist who has dozens of songwriting credits (including with secular artists) to his name and a long list of awards, including Grammys, Emmys, and ASCAPs. In addition to his achievements, West is also committed to giving back. To that end, he has formed popwe, a charitable organization and ministry designed to help people share encouraging stories and uplift each other under the theme “Craft. Share. Live.”
With various atrocities coming across the airwaves from time to time, it's good to know that songwriters and musicians, in general, are playing their part in helping to push back against the darkness. Please note that there are many others who could have been added to the list but those mentioned are the ones currently top of mind. With that said, remember to be the change you want to see in the world.