Using music as a tool for activism is what countless artists have done over the decades. When people of different races, despite language and cultural differences, can share and enjoy music together, it opens possibilities to bridge cultural divides. In the R&B universe, there are some whose efforts have made a lasting impact on communities, charities, and people around the world.
We’ve compiled a list of significant artists and their work as activists:
Prince’s activism lasted for decades before his passing. In 1995, his song “Hello” pointed out that “We’re against hungry children / Our record stands tall / There’s just as much hunger here at home.” 2010’s “Ol’ Skool Company” talked about the ongoing economic struggle: “Everybody’s talkin’ about hard times / Like it just started yesterday / People eye know they’ve been strugglin’ / At least it seems that way / Fat cats on Wall Street / They got a bailout / While somebody else got 2 wait.”
Besides his activism in music, Prince donated $1.5 million to local New York charities in 2011. He was also an early supporter of the Elevate Hope Foundation, which uses music and the arts to support children who have experienced abuse.
2. Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey is a Congressional Horizon Award recipient for her humanitarian work and is well known for efforts to help disadvantaged children. She the is co-founder of Camp Mariah, where inner-city youth have the opportunity to embrace the arts and learn about career opportunities. Carey established the camp in conjunction with the Fresh Air Fund, an independent not-for-profit agency that provides free summer vacations to children from New York City’s toughest neighborhoods, after learning her own sister was HIV positive. In 2016, she also accepted the Ally Award at the GLAAD Awards for her inclusive representations of the LGBTQ Community throughout her career.
3. John Legend
In an interview with ESSENCE, John Stated: “I always knew that I would stand up for justice, that I would stand up for equality… I wrote an essay about it when I was 15 years old and I’ve been trying to live that ever since.” John has supported several causes during his time as an artist. He created the FreeAmerica movement, which aims to end mass incarceration in the United States. John Legend is leading a listening and learning tour across the country visiting with incarcerated individuals, law enforcement, legislators, and experts who’ve been thinking critically about America’s prison problem. John is also a proud member of the Teach For All board and is actively engaged with its United States affiliate, Teach For America. Through his work with Teach For All and Teach For America, John seeks to support the organization in attracting quality, committed and diverse individuals to the teaching profession.
Beyoncé is infamous for demonstrating activism through her performances. Whether it was the Feminist LED sign at the 2014 VMAs, her “Formation” performance at the Super Bowl supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, or when she invited the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Mike Brown and Eric Garner to the 2016 VMA’s red carpet, Beyoncé sure knows how to make a statement. She has also donated to many disaster relief efforts over the years and school foundations.