Music That Makes a Difference 2018

Music That Makes a Difference 2018

CNN Music & Art

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

CNN Music & Art

Eddie Van Halen donates guitars to public schools

Eddie Van Halen

CNN Music & Art


2017 Music That Makes a Difference

Songs have always had the power to bring both awareness and change. They serve as lasting documents that forever stamp a time and place in our world.

The challenges in 2017 were many: war, famine and polarizing political leaders.

To combat it, a wide-ranging mix of artists brought back protest music and political performance art — many taking aim at the policies and practices of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Eminem led the pack — dropping a blistering freestyle rap for the BET Hip Hop Awards.

eminem bet

In it, he questioned the President’s patriotism, labeled him a racist and deemed him incompetent to serve. Eminem dropped the mic with this explicit challenge.

And any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his
I’m drawing in the sand a line: you’re either for or against
And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split
On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this:
F**k you!

Tom Morello watched the presidential debates carefully. He saw a headline that read: “Donald Trump rages against the machine.” That set him off…

“Oh Hell no. That is our territory; not his.” Morello told CNN.

tom morello

“I do very much understand the discontent that people feel with both the Republican and Democratic parties — which, honestly, don’t respond to the needs of the vast majority of people. And they were looking outside of those parameters for something different. A racist demagogue would not be my first choice.”

Fed up with money-driven politics in America, Morello formed the super-group Prophets of Rage (Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill) to present alternative ideas of forging a more decent and humane planet.

chuck d

His band mate, Chuck D, told CNN, “We didn’t wish for this scenario to be this f’ed up or this messed up just so we could come out with an album of songs. That’s ridiculous. You want the world to be a better place.

“You want human beings to keep an eye on governments. Because governments can tinker and take this planet down a wrong rabbit hole. And this is what they’re seeing now. Music, words, wisdom… there’s truth to power. So a lot of artists are gonna say a lot of different things. You can’t stop the music.”

jack johnson

Mellow melody maker Jack Johnson also struck a political chord in 2017. He brought his guitar and a message to CNN performing his new single, “My Mind is For Sale” which includes these lyrics:

I don’t care for your paranoid
“Us against them” walls
I don’t care for your careless
“Me first, gimme gimme” appetite at all

Johnson told CNN, “I’m not trying to write an anti-Trump song. I’ve heard people call it that. It’s maybe anti-a-few-of-his-ideas. If anything, it’s a pro love song.

“I try to look at something and, instead of only tearing something down, you want to replace it with something positive. Walls that divide us — that’s not a good thing. So it’s more about being pro-active about how do you include people.”

roger watersLegendary rocker Roger Waters knows a lot about walls. He’s not a fan of Trump’s and is back on tour with a new take of Pink Floyd’s classic track “Pigs.”

“Big man, pig man. Ha, ha, charade you are,” Waters sings with images of Trump lighting up his set.

“This is a very, very dangerous spiv, Donald Trump. And the fact that he hasn’t been laughed out of office by an electorate just shows how powerful the propaganda machines that operate are,” Waters told CNN.

“In order for the blue collar (people) to continue to support him,” Waters said, “they have to go on believing the mantra that the reason they’re being crushed under his jack boot is because of the Mexicans and the Chinese and foreign people and Muslims. Whereas in fact, they are being crushed by him and by Paul Ryan and the Republican agenda which is to steal money from the poor and give it to the rich.”

trump is pig

trump rock nugentWhile Trump has no shortage of critics in the music industry, he does have some prominent supporters like Ted Nugent and Kid Rock.

In April, both musicians visited the White House with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Nugent told the Detroit Free Press “Trump is swinging an American crowbar at all things status quo. Does that ring any bells? Does that sound like a guitar player from Detroit who was anti-dope, pro-law enforcement, pro-gun during the hippie days?”

Rapper Kanye West visited Trump Tower after the election. He posed for chummy pictures with the President-Elect but then deleted a number of tweets supporting him, seemingly cutting ties.

kanye trump

Former Fugees frontman, Wyclef Jean, chose not to pick a political side. He dusted off his song “Mr. President” and gave it a make-over.

“As an artists, it’s important that we understand that we don’t approach this on an emotional level, but on a level of policy and where it’s gonna matter,” Wyclef told CNN.

He took humorous shots at Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the music video. “My concern is really a bi-partisan one,” Wyclef said. “At the end of the day, if we don’t find a middle ground, then, we’re gonna be in trouble.”


In the Face of Terror… the Songs Play on

Hate knows no boundaries.

And the worst of its kind burst into concert venues in Manchester and Las Vegas in 2017.

manchester injury

On May 22, a lone suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device in the foyer of Manchester Arena.

22 people died in the blast, including an eight-year-old girl. More than 500 more were injured.

manchester floralGrande organized a relief concert two weeks later called “One Love Manchester” bringing together some of the biggest names in music.

Leading up to the event, told CNN, “Ariana Grande and team reached out to us and asked us if we could lend ourselves to help raise awareness and funds for the families of the victims. They didn’t even have to complete the sentence.

“We’re gonna be there to spread love and remind people that we should not let hate and fear destroy our connection with music.”

black eyed peasGrande joined Black Eyed Peas on stage for a stirring rendition of “Where is the Love?” A song that remains as relevant now as it did when it was released 14 years ago.

“That song was created after the events of 9/11,” Taboo explained to CNN. “Still to this day in 2017, people ask for it. People go online and say, ‘We need this song.’ Whether things are happening in Paris or the United States or Manchester — that song speaks to the world.

“We’re glad that we’re able to perform it,” Taboo continued. “It’s sad that when something bad happens that song has to be the thing that we rely on to provide our perspective and our therapy for the people that need it. We’re just going to out there with an open heart and just spread love.”

The “One Love Manchester” concert raised more than $13 million for victims of the attack.

aldeanThen, on October 1, a crowd of 22,000 people were enjoying headliner Jason Aldean wrap up the Route 91 Harvest music festival.

A gunman perched 32 stories above them in a suite at the Mandalay Bay turned the music into mayhem firing more than 1,100 rounds on the innocent people below.

58 people died. 546 others were injured.

Bryan Hopkins is lead singer for the band Elvis Monroe. They had played a set earlier that day.

Hopkins was enjoying the Aldean set when the bullets rang out. He saw people go down all around him but helped usher two girls in front of him to safety in a walk-in freezer backstage.

“As I said, ‘Let’s run,’ I look right, left, a police officer is running right at me, sweating, screaming, ‘This way! This way! This way!'” Hopkins told CNN.

“As soon as I pass him, he’s not behind me, he’s running where everybody else is. He’s running to the fire. He’s running into it.”

One of many heroes on that awful night.

bryan hopkins

Jason Aldean took a break from the road but rebooted his tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to a sold out crowd.

“I hope none of you guys ever have to experience anything like that,” Aldean told his fans. “It’s been a really tough thing to deal with for all of us up here. I think the one thing that’s probably gonna help us more than anything is to play for you guys tonight.”

From Marches to #METOO, Women Rise Up

For women, 2017 was a year of reckoning — a cultural shift not seen since the sixties.

The day after President Trump’s inauguration, millions of women around the world marched for equal rights.

To counter Trump’s “Access Hollywood” sexual abuse comments, Fiona Apple wrote a rallying cry for the masses: “We don’t want your tiny hands, anywhere near our underpants.”

Alicia Keys took the stage in Washington D.C. and hit all the right notes reciting Maya Angelou to the masses:

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise

alicia keys

time coverAnd rise they did — forcing several high-profile entertainers, politicians and newsmen to face the music for decades of abuse and mistreatment.

There are more than 300,000 victims of sexual assault in the United States each year… and many shared their stories using the hashtag: Me Too. In fact, the “Silence Breakers” were Time’s “Person of the Year.”

Taylor Swift was one of the women on the magazine cover. She accused a radio DJ of groping her and won a court battle against him.

The singer told Time, “I think that this moment is important for awareness, for how parents are talking to their children, and how victims are processing their trauma, whether it be new or old.”

Pop singer Kesha fought to get out of her recording contract, claiming sexual abuse by her producer.

He denies wrongdoing.

While the legal battle lingers on, Kesha let loose in her comeback song, “Prayers.”

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

Lady Gaga appeared with former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in a PSA video for the “It’s on Us” campaign.

She said, “I am a sexual assault survivor, and I know the effects, the aftermath, the trauma – psychological, physical, mental. It can be terrifying waking up every day feeling unsafe in your own body.

“But we’re here to remind you that it’s important to reach out to someone in your life that you can trust, and to know that they will be there to help you; there will be someone to listen. Because you know what? It’s on us.”

gaga biden

Gaga penned the powerful “Till it Happens to You” with songwriting savant Diane Warren. It tackles the painful subject of campus rape in the United States and Gaga performed it at the 2016 Oscars alongside 50 sexual assault survivors.

“I think it’s probably my most important song,” Warren told CNN. “It’s given a voice to something that’s never really had a voice. The whole sexual assault thing has been in the shadows and in the closet. And (the song) took it out of that and made people able to talk about it and feel like they’re not alone.”

gaga warren

Singer/songwriter Lissie choked back tears telling CNN, “It’s just terrible a lot of things that are happening to women. Even though it’s not personally happening to me, I feel that we have to talk about it and we have to stop it.”

She’s trying to do both with her single “Daughters.” The video raises awareness about the plight of women in Africa who spend 40 billion hours a year walking to get water — time that could be spent getting an education, working or raising children.


Lissie donated money from “Daughters” to Charity Water, a non-profit that provides clean, convenient and sustainable water to communities that need it most — giving women and girls their lives back.

“When we’re equal, whether it’s our pay, being able to control our own bodies or little girls not being sold into marriages — then, we’re going to bring peace to this world because we’re going to stick up for ourselves and that’s what I’d like to see happen.”

charity water

 Artists Take on Race Relations

Race relations in America have ugly roots.

In 2017, its vile vine spread to the streets of Charlottesville with white nationalists marching through the Virginia town openly spewing messages of hate.

The rally turned violent and one counter-protester was deliberately run over and killed by a deranged driver.

President Trump refused to forcefully condemn the white supremacists, instead blaming both sides for the violence.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump told reporters. “Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.”

That message didn’t sit well with the Charlottesville-based Dave Matthews Band wrote, “Hate speech disguised as free speech is cowardly and shameful.”

Then, in a clear reference to the year’s battle over Confederate statues in the South, the group added: “There is nothing pure, acceptable, or philosophical about Nazism, or racism masked as heritage.”

dave charlottesville

In the name of peace and unity, DMB organized a charity concert featuring Justin Timberlake, Chris Martin, Chris Stapleton and others.

Matthews kicked off the night alone onstage with his acoustic guitar. He told the crowd of 50,000 plus, “Everybody says, ‘Oh, Charlottesville! That’s the place where those Nazis came to town with their machine guns out, talking about hate.’ And I say, ‘No! Charlottesville’s the place that took me in. It’s the place where I met my band. Charlottesville is a place full of hope.’ And Charlottesville has a difficult history, but so does so much of the world. But this place is such a good place.”

dave susan

Then, Matthews introduced Susan Bro to the audience. Bro’s daughter, Heather, died in that crash. She grabbed the microphone and said in the words of her daughter, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Matthews had another surprise guest that night — Stevie Wonder. He said, “My mother cries in heaven for me. She left me in a world where she believed I would be able to see. And I do. But not in the way she imagined.

“What I have seen too much if is breaking my heart. I have seen hate marching down the streets disguised as a cry for equality. If can see it, dammit, I know you can see it.”

The question was, Wonder said, “What are we going to do about it?”

dave stevie

He and Matthews both dropped to their knees in prayer for the United States and the world — something many pro football players had been doing during the playing of the “National Anthem” to call attention to racial injustices and police brutality against African Americans.

John Legend told CNN, “We’ve seen this message sent far too many times that when police kill our citizens and our civilians that their lives don’t really matter because the police are able to do it with impunity.

“This is not new,” Legend continued. “We keep seeing it over and over. And something needs to change. We need our police to have better practices and we need to make sure that taking a life of a civilian is the absolute last resort… When police do the wrong thing, they (should) face some justice for that.”

john legend cnn

In Ben Harper’s song, “Call it What it Is” he focuses on three young, black men shot and killed by authorities: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Ezell Ford. The reason he highlighted those cases was because “otherwise it would take me the entire record to name them all.”

Harper admits that the song draws a line in the lyrical content.

they shot him in the back
now it’s a crime to be black
so don’t act surprised
when it gets vandalized
call it what it is

ben harper

“If you’re going to test my resolve, I’m not backing down,” Harper told CNN. “Hopefully that song can be a voice in the choir of collective consciousness in the name of change — whether that be in the way people react and act on a daily basis or whether that’s a change in policy.

“I hope there is a shift in the way we approach race,” Harper continued. “I have a great deal of honor and respect for the necessity of and roll of law enforcement. But the murder has to stop.”

patterson hoodPatterson Hood and his band Drive-by-Truckers are from George Wallace and Roy Moore country in Alabama. Hood came of age in the wake of the civil rights movement and told CNN that he thinks race relations is the darkest part of American history.

“I saw first-hand just how damaging the things that happened in the South were to our area, to our economy, our cities, our towns and our reputation — and I really hate to see that playing out on a more national level,” Hood said.

“As long as you have politicians who are stoking that fear of the other for their own means, it just drags it out and makes the healing take longer.”

Music in times of need

Music also has the power to heal.

After hurricanes ravaged Houston, the Florida Keys, Puerto Rico and islands in the Caribbean, artists like Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney and Jennifer Lopez played benefit concerts and organized charity events to raise millions of dollars in aid.

pr hurricane

jlo puerto ricoLopez, along with ex-husband Marc Anthony and others, held the televised benefit “One Voice: Somos Live! A Concert for Disaster Relief.” It raised $35 million to aid Hurricane Maria victims in her native country.

“To Puerto Rico the message is, ‘We haven’t forgotten about you,” Lopez told CNN. “We were able to raise a lot of money, but now it’s about distributing it… people on the ground in Puerto Rico right now telling us what they need — whether it’s generators or diesel fuel or water or logistics put in place to get this stuff where it needs to be because the island’s so devastated.”

The singer added, “The past couple of years, with so much division and sad events going on — for people to come together and show unity and show that they care, you really go, ‘There’s so many good people in the world.'”

Kenny Chesney sent a relief plane to St. John after Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit stocked with generators, Internet equipment and a host of clean-up supplies. He also launched his Love For Love City Foundation to help raise money to provide relief and rebuild the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

“A hurricane can destroy an island, it can tear down houses, it can devastate homes,” Chesney told CNN. “The one thing that I really love about the people down on the islands over the years is their heart and their spirit and how resilient they are. A hurricane can take away all of our stuff, but they can not take away our heart and our spirit.”

kenny chesney

Music As Activism

More than 500,000 people in the U.S. are homeless and nearly 50,000 of them live in Los Angeles County.

Pop star Andy Grammer asked his fans to take a closer look at this population — one that is often misunderstood or not even seen at all in his new song, “Fresh Eyes.”

andy grammerGrammer, who spent his early days performing on the streets of Santa Monica, California, gave several homeless people on Skid Row makeovers — providing them clean clothes, haircuts and hot meals during the filming of the video.

“The most powerful part, by far, was when they saw themselves dressed and clean — you could see some dignity come back into the way that they were standing or the way they would talk to you,” Grammer told CNN.

“What I wanted to do more than anything was just raise some compassion,” he said. “If someone saw this video and they pass someone who is homeless and take another look, say, ‘Hi,” give them something or start up a conversation and are able to break through the film that our society has of who those people are, then it would be successful.”

logicAccording to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Every day, approximately 105 Americans die by suicide.

Rapper Logic wrote one of the most powerful anthems of the year “1-800-273-8255.” The song’s name is the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Logic’s lyrics channel the inner-thoughts of a man struggling with his sexual identity — offering this hopeful conclusion.

“The lane I travel feels alone / but I’m moving ’til my legs give out / and I see my tears melt in the snow / but I don’t wanna cry / I don’t wanna cry anymore / I wanna feel alive / I don’t even wanna die anymore.”

Logic says he routinely hears from people who say that his music helped saved their lives.

He told The Washington Post, “In my mind, I was like, ‘Man I wasn’t even trying to save anybody’s life. And then it hit me — the power that I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life. Now what could happen if I actually did?”

logic song

Sick of the violence in Chicago and lack of opportunity for inner-city youth, Chance the Rapper wrote the public school district a $1 million check and raised even more to provide struggling kids a better education.

“I’m committed to helping Chicago’s children have quality learning experiences — experiences that include the arts,” he told reporters. “As an artist and an after school teacher, I know the arts are essential. They teach invaluable lessons like ‘practice makes perfect,’ that ‘small differences can have large affects’ and that ‘collaboration leads to creativity.'”

chance rapper

eddie van halenRock n’ roll Hall of Famer Eddie Van Halen wants to make sure every child gets their hands on an instrument.

He donated 75 of his personal guitars to underprivileged schools in California. So right now, kids are learning to play music on the same guitar that shredded “Unchained.”

“Music is such a necessity,” Van Halen told CNN. “It touches people’s souls. Music is the universal language to me. It transcends everything.”

Melissa Etheridge explained the power of music this way to CNN, “Music bypasses all the other channels that we usually process things with. You listen to the news, you get some information and then you think about it. Then, it goes into your heart. Well, music goes straight into you. You have rhythm, you have tones that we’ve had for ages and you hear it and then you think about it. And so it’s good for us, healthy for us… it balances us.”

andra daySongs hold the world accountable, seek justice and demand that we all pay attention.

“Protest songs have been being written since well before the Dust Bowl — with ‘This Land is Your Land,’ which is one of the quintessential protest songs,” Sheryl Crow told CNN. “It’s not celebrating that this land is beautiful. It’s celebrating the cynicism that there was a moment in our history where people didn’t believe that this land was their land.”

Through her music, the inspirational Andra Day has asked us to “Rise Up” and “Stand Up For Something.” She told CNN, “I see, just looking throughout history and in my own life, how influential music is. Music can cause revolutions around the world and can change legislation and give us freedom and equality that we’ve been looking for.”

Music does, indeed, make a difference.

Written and produced by Ben Bamsey with help from Alexandra Meeks for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”

music makes difference

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