photo of the late classic rock superstar Tom Petty performing in concert

Rock And R&B Musicians Say NO To Trump And They Won’t Back Down

by Richard Cameron


A broad swath of the royalty of the music industry find (impeached) president Donald Trump, his policies and his messaging to the country, reprehensible and toxic.  As such, whenever they and their families discover he has been featuring their music at a campaign event, they are quick to denounce it and call on him and his campaign to stop.

The Trump brand and the politics associated with it are unwelcome in the musical community. Some notable examples involve the following:

Neil Young

creative commons photo of Neil Young in performance in 2009

Young, 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and one of an ever shrinking club of surviving artists from the Golden age of rock music, is adamantly against, not only Trump himself, but Trump’s use of his music in any campaign setting.

This began in 2015, when Trump, who reportedly picks the music used by his campaign, played, Young’s classic, “Rockin’ In The Free World” as part of his official campaign launch. 

Statement from Neil Young rejecting use of his music at Trump campaign events

Young had more to say in an open letter to Trump. 

You are a disgrace to my country. Bragging about the US economy does not disguise the fact that the numbers today are what you inherited almost 4 years ago. Your mindless destruction of our shared natural resources, our environment and our relationships with friends around the world is unforgivable. Your policies, decisions and short term thinking continue to exacerbate the Climate Crisis. Our first black president was a better man than you are.

None of this deters Trump in the least, since Trump has no respect for anyone’s rights or wishes. Trump’s campaign formally denied the request to discontinue the use of Neil’s music.:

“Mr. Trump’s campaign paid for and obtained the legal right to use Neil Young’s recording of ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ at today’s event,” a spokesperson said. “Mr. Trump is a huge fan of Neil Young and his music and will continue to be regardless of Neil’s political views.”

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R.E.M.

R.E.M. frontman, Michael Stipe, spoke to Trump indirectly on behalf of his bandmates in denouncing Trump and his campaign and ordering them to “cease all use” of the band’s music for any purpose, after learning that Trump had played their hit, “It’s the End of the World” at Trump rallies:

R.E.M. band leader Michael Stipe quote, instructing Trump and his campaign to quit using the band's music in campaign events.

 

The Rolling Stones

The “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”, has requested that Trump and his campaign not involve their music in any way with his political activities. 

Mick Jagger commented on Trump’s use of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, explaining that regrettably their legal representatives have informed them that if anyone, including Trump’s campaign, pays licensing fees, there is little the artist can do to prevent it.  Of Trump’s use of the song, Jagger noted in a BBC interview:   

He used it on everything. He used it on every rally through the election campaign. I wasn’t the DJ obviously, but if I was Donald’s DJ… it’s a funny song for your play-out song. When he finished the speech, he played this out, this sort of doomy ballad about drugs in Chelsea.

Aerosmith

Aerosmith and band leader, Steven Tyler, want nothing to do with Trump or Trump’s politics.  

Since 2015, Steven Tyler has demanded that Trump not use Aerosmith’s music. Despite that, in August 2018, Trump played  Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge” at a rally.  The band’s public relations and legal representation issued a statement:

By using ‘Livin’ On The Edge’ without our client’s permission, Mr. Trump is falsely implying that our client, once again, endorses his campaign and/or his presidency, as evidenced by actual confusion seen from the reactions of our client’s fans all over social media.

Queen

The surviving member of mega-platinum classic rock legends, Queen and frequent band spokesman, guitarist Brian May, have directed their management to instruct Trump and his campaign apparatus to not use the band’s music in any capacity: 

Sony/ATV Music Publishing has never been asked by Mr. Trump, the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization for permission to use ‘We are the Champions’ by Queen.  On behalf of the band, we are frustrated by the repeated unauthorized use of the song after a previous request to desist, which has obviously been ignored by Mr. Trump and his campaign.

“Queen does not want its music associated with any mainstream or political debate in any country,” the statement continued. “Nor does Queen want ‘We are the Champions’ to be used as an endorsement of Mr. Trump and the political views of the Republican Party. We trust, hope and expect that Mr. Trump and his campaign will respect these wishes moving forward.”

A friend of the band, and the founder of 60’s / 70’s supergroups, Free and Bad Company – Paul Rodgers also objects to Trump’s use of his music.  Rodgers tweeted, 

George Harrison’s family

The Trump campaign used one of Harrison’s beloved contributions to the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album, “Here Comes The Sun”, as a song to introduce Ivanka Trump at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio in July, 2016.  Harrison’s family’s reaction was swift.  “The unauthorised use of #HereComestheSun at the #RNCunCLE is offensive & against the wishes of the George Harrison estate.”

Other conscientious objectors include Guns N’ Roses, Elton John, Pharell Williams, Rihanna, Adele, Earth Wind and Fire, the O’Jays and the estate of Prince

Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses, tweeted, “… the Trump campaign is using loopholes in the various venues’ blanket performance licenses which were not intended for such craven political purposes, without the songwriters’ consent.”

Pharell Williams, whose R&B hit, “Happy” was used in a Trump event in 2018, the same evening as the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting, asked that such use be terminated.

“There was nothing ‘happy’ about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose,” the letter stated.  It also said Williams “has not and will not” in the future, give Trump permission to use his music.

Ojay’s singer Walter Williams told the New York Daily News why the group opposes the use of their music by Trump.  “Our music, and most especially, Love Train is about bringing people together, not building walls.” 

Trump has used Prince’s signature song, “Purple Rain” in campaign events, but Prince’s family members are not amused and they don’t approve. 

Meme with statement from the estate of the late pop superstar Prince, announcing its disapproval of the Trump campaign's use of Prince's music.

Prince’s half brother checked in as well. Omarr Baker, released a statement on behalf of the family asking Trump to stop playing the song.  “The Prince Estate has never given permission to President Trump or The White House to use Prince’s songs and have requested that they cease all use immediately.”

Tom Petty’s family won’t back down

The most recent in this long line of artists that Trump has co-opted despite knowing that the musician would never have endorsed his politics, is the late Classic rock icon, Tom Petty.

Trump’s campaign used Petty’s hit, “I Won’t Back Down” and his family instantly reacted.

“Trump was in no way authorized to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind,” Petty’s daughters Adria and Annakim, his widow, Dana, and ex-wife Jane said a statement on Twitter signed Saturday.

They continued: “We would hate for fans that are marginalized by this administration to think we were complicit in this usage. Concurrently, we have issued an official cease and desist notice to the Trump campaign. Tom Petty would never want a song of his used for a campaign of hate. Both the late Tom Petty and his family firmly stand against racism and discrimination of any kind.”


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