Brandi Carlile’s Vision of Love – Rolling Stone
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Brandi Carlile’s Fight for Peace and Love

How the acclaimed singer-songwriter and her wife put their ideals into action through charity work

Brandi Carlile remembers feeling a new kind of anxiety when she became a mother in 2014. “I was wondering how it was fair that our children were born into relative safety just because of geography,” says the acclaimed singer-songwriter. When she expressed these concerns to her wife, Catherine Shepherd, who coordinated Paul McCartney’s charity work for 10 years, Shepherd told her, “If you want to feel better, you really need to focus this into something productive.”

Not long after that conversation, Carlile launched an ambitious campaign to use her fame for good. In 2017, she oversaw the release of Cover Stories, a star-studded rerecording of her 2007 LP The Story, with artists from Adele to Pearl Jam; all proceeds went to War Child UK, a nonprofit that provides aid to children affected by armed conflict. Since the album’s release, Carlile’s Looking Out Foundation has raised more than $800,000 for the group. “They don’t parachute a bunch of white people in to solve the world’s problems,” Shepherd says of War Child. “They work with people on the ground.”

The couple, who married in 2012, met when Shepherd reached out about donating some McCartney memorabilia to a Carlile initiative called Fight the Fear, which provided self-defense and empowerment training for women at risk for violence and abuse. “We met through our activism and interest in charity,” says Carlile, 37. “We communicated for about a year, and the entire time I thought I was talking to somebody who was 65. It was an interesting way to fall in love.”

Early on in their correspondence, Carlile shared with Shepherd her misgivings about the ways she felt American charity was a “pastime of the rich.” “I had hesitation about branding my activism with my notoriety in the music business,” she says. “I don’t like the perception of the great American dollar becoming the be-all and end-all of how to help humanity — because it’s not. In fact, it may be what initially hurt it.”

Today, Carlile balances her idealism with Shepherd’s pragmatic approach. She has mixed feelings about auctioning off her own memorabilia and VIP access for charity, but -ultimately, she says, “My principles aren’t as important as educating children who are going to spend their lives in a refugee camp.” In the past, Carlile and Shepherd have encouraged the singer’s fans to volunteer at her shows, so they “feel like they could contribute just as much through rolling up their sleeves and doing the work,” says Shepherd, “as they would if they donated money.”

Carlile continues to prioritize War Child, but she’s always seeking new organizations to partner with, new injustices to fight. “I would be lying if I said that I could focus on one cause for the rest of my life,” she says. “An artist does their best work in big bursts of light: We make a record, we tour, and then we try to make another record. When I’m most honest with myself, activism is the same way.”

For all her work in this field, Carlile adds, she still feels like she’s in the early stages of becoming an artist-activist. “It’s not a fine line between entertaining and inciting empathy in people — it’s a leap,” she says. “And it’s one that I’m right in the middle of.”

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