It’s been nearly a year since Covid-19 essentially shut down concert tours — the financial backbone of most working musicians – in the United States and beyond. As a result, thousands of musicians and touring professionals, many of whom work as nonunion independent contractors, are still out of work and struggling to make ends meet during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With no end in sight and no firm forecast for a return to normal touring in the future, they need more help than ever. Rolling Stone has compiled more than 20 charities that have been providing either direct emergency relief and assistance or crucial advocacy and educational resources to musicians throughout the pandemic. All of the organizations, from the 100-plus-year-old Musician’s Foundation to the newly formed Touring Professionals Relief Kitchen initiative, are themselves in desperate need of funding to keep meeting the surging demands of struggling music-industry workers.
Below are a number of organizations that have been doing some of the most crucial relief work during the pandemic. All organizations are currently accepting donations.
This 107-year-old organization’s CV19 Emergency Relief Grant offers up to $200 to all eligible musicians who’ve been performing in the U.S. for at least five years.
Mission: “As the oldest nonprofit of its kind in the United States, Musicians Foundation is dedicated to assisting musicians, and their families, in times of emergency, crisis, or transition. … Many thousands of performers, educators, and composers have been left with no work. As most do not have a safety net, they turn to Musicians Foundation for support.”
This 41-year-old Memphis-based foundation is one of the oldest organizations specifically dedicated to the preservation and cultural legacy of the blues. “A lot of us … are being gravely affected by this pandemic,” said the singer Janiva Magness. “The Blues Foundation has got our back for full-time blues musicians, period.”
Mission: “The Blues Foundation established the Covid-19 Blues Musician Emergency Relief Fund to provide immediate resources to full-time professional North American blues musicians whose revenue streams have been severely diminished by the current coronavirus pandemic. The fund is intended for blues musicians for whom performing makes up the bulk of their income and who have no other outlets for work. A professional blues musician with financial need will be considered for an award by the Fund Committee based on the subjective merits of their application and financial need.”
The Recording Academy’s nonprofit wing has provided financial, medical, and personal aid to musicians for 30 years. It’s raised millions for its Covid-19 Relief Fund, with John Mayer, Father John Misty, and Leon Bridges all announcing benefit initiatives in the early months of the pandemic.
Mission: “Covid-19 has devastated our music community, leaving thousands of music creators and professionals with an uncertain future. We are here to help.”
In addition to running the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Museum in Kentucky, the Nashville-based International Bluegrass Music Association has been providing aid to bluegrass musicians through the IBMA Trust Fund, which has distributed nearly $1 million to those in need since 1987.
Mission: “As a commitment to our professional bluegrass community, the IBMA Trust Fund Board of Trustees has set aside up to $150,000 of current assets for Covid-19 crisis assistance and established an account specifically for Covid-19 relief. Any funds donated to this new account will be added to the existing funds being committed.“
Last spring, Louis Armstrong’s 51-year-old foundation launched a $1 million relief fund for freelance jazz musicians in New York, providing one-time $1,000 grants to struggling musicians. The organization, overwhelmed by artists’ needs during the pandemic, currently is unable to accept more aid applications from musicians, but is still accepting donations.
Mission: “The entire jazz ecosystem has been shut down, and the jazz community is devastated. To mitigate some of the loss, this fund will award an unprecedented $1 million to assist qualifying musicians in need,” said jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, who also serves as the foundation’s president. “Although this is a very large fund for an institution of our size, we are doing what we know ‘Pops’ would do; and we welcome individuals, foundations, and other organizations to join us in supporting this underserved community.”
For nearly 30 years, this North Carolina-based nonprofit has been providing direct financial, professional, and day-to-day relief for aging artists, mostly in the American South. According to its website, the organization was “founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time.”
Mission: “The fear of contracting the coronavirus is a very real concern for our Partner Artists. Being Black and elderly makes them much more susceptible to severe outcomes if they get Covid-19, forcing them to become more isolated than before the pandemic. While Music Maker has been working diligently to provide material necessities such as groceries, grants, and medicine, there is another meaningful element to our work. Our Partner Artists have told us that the most important thing that Music Maker does is call to check in. Our regular check-ins are vital to combating loneliness while our partners are isolated.”
The United Kingdom’s largest musician-aid organization has provided relief to nearly 20,000 musicians since the beginning of the pandemic. The organization’s latest round of aid is targeted at “self-employed musicians who do not qualify for Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and unemployed professional musicians who are unable to make ends meet in the face of further lockdowns and ongoing restrictions.“
Mission: “We have seen musicians react with resilience and resourcefulness over the past eight months. However, as we progress through the year with no clear return to work, there are still many thousands struggling to make ends meet,” said Chief Executive James Ainscough. “This year, perhaps more than ever, we have all valued the comfort music has brought, but without further financial support, we risk losing so many of the musicians behind the music. As a charity set up 99 years ago to support musicians, we’ve been in a privileged position to offer musicians help during this crisis, with donations from the wider industry and public donations making a meaningful difference to the scale of support we are able to provide.”
The latest from the LEE Initiative, which has been running relief kitchens feeding out-of-work restaurant employees during the pandemic, is this partnership with the Touring Professionals Alliance. Focused on Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, and New York, the partnership will provide meals to out-of-work touring professionals in need.
Mission: “Touring professionals and venue staff are only paid when there is live music, and most have been out of work since March  with no end in sight. … With this special program reaching from the industry we know and love to one we cherish and support, we employ some of the most renowned chefs in Los Angeles, Nashville, Chicago, and New York to feed the music industry and employ the music industry to help us get meals to their peers.“
This Kansas City, Missouri-based nonprofit founded in 1989 is devoted to providing resources and opportunities for folk musicians across the world, with more than 3,000 members. The organization recently started the Village Fund, which aims to initially distribute 200 individual grants of $500 if it can raise $100,000.
Mission: “The Village Fund is a grant program for folk artists and independent music-industry professionals experiencing financial hardship, administered by Folk Alliance International. The Village Fund’s name is inspired by the rural origins of various folk-music traditions, the urban villages that expanded the folk audience, and the recognition that folk music forms one global village of fans, artists, and industry professionals alike.“
Founded by working musicians, this multigenre coalition was founded in 2019 to help advocate for better working conditions for musicians in New York state. The alliance spent much of 2020 working on behalf of struggling musicians who’ve lost work due to the pandemic. “At the outbreak of Covid-19 we asked for much-needed governmental relief for all workers, and hosted an unemployment blog/clinic that offered peer assistance to music workers who were having difficulty applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” the organization said.
Mission: “We came together because we are fed up with unfair treatment and a lack of benefits, contracts, as well as representation. We’re launching this alliance to improve our working conditions and amplify our voices in the political and economic decisions that affect our lives. We call on all independent musicians and DJs to organize, speak up, and take action.
This nonprofit devoted to choral music offers research and advocacy in the choral field. The organization has been providing its members with a variety of crucial informational and educational resources throughout the pandemic, including a number of webinars with scientists about the safety and dangers of transmission when singing during a pandemic.
Mission: “Chorus America serves more than 6,000 choruses, individuals, businesses, and organizations with a wide array of programs, publications, research, and professional services. These services strengthen their ability to build strong organizations that foster quality choral performances and community connections.”
Artists who perform early music can apply for a mini grant from the Early Music Relief Fund with this three-decade-old organization. The second round of applications are now closed, but the group continues to raise money to provide more aid.
Mission: “Early Music America is a North American community of people who find joy, meaning, and purpose in studying and experiencing historically informed performance. For more than 30 years, EMA has enriched the field of early music in North America by developing and supporting interest in the music of the past, so that it informs and shapes our lives today.”
The Jazz Foundation of America crucially aided artists in need during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. They’ve now started a Covid-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund, providing grief counseling and living expenses alongside distributing fees for canceled gigs.
Mission: “The bottom has fallen out of the live-music industry. Concerts, tours, and festivals have been canceled. Clubs, bars, and restaurants have closed. Our jazz and blues community is one of the earliest to be hit and one of the least-equipped to endure such a disruption. The need is unprecedented but reminds us of JFA’s mission and purpose to provide emergency assistance in times of crisis.”
One of the lesser-discussed impacts that Covid-19 has had on music is the devastation it’s wrought to music educators, who, like all teachers, are struggling to adjust to virtual-learning during the pandemic. The National Association for Music Education, established in 1907, has been gathering crucial teaching resources and relevant academic studies for music educators.
Mission: “There has never been a time in memory during which we as a profession have faced such a challenge to our teaching. NAfME and our partners are committed to supporting our music educators with resources for virtual instruction, professional development, and critical information during this pandemic.“
Founded by singer-songwriter Victoria Williams in 1993, this charity assists artists facing physical or medical problems. Its Covid-19 fund, supported in part by livestreams from artists like Kesha and Stephen Marley, expands the aid to include lodging, clothing, food, and more.
Mission: “Sweet Relief Musicians Fund provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians and music-industry workers who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. In other words, Healing Musicians in Need. We all have received so much out of music, it’s time to give a little back!”
In the lead-up to canceling its 2020 fests, the nonprofit wing of the Newport Folk and Jazz festivals created a Covid-19 Musician Relief Fund, available to anyone who’s played either event. Since then, the fund has expanded to all folk and jazz musicians, as well as music-education programs.
Mission: “In the past year, Newport Festivals Foundation has provided financial relief to more than 425 musicians impacted by the pandemic and more than 100 grants for music-education programs across the country.”
Live Nation Entertainment launched its $10 million relief fund last April to assist tour crew members in the absence of live music. Since then, in part due to its established industry connections, the fund has received a significant show of support, raising more than $15 million to support 15,000 crew members around the world as of August 2020.
Mission: “Live music inspires millions around the world, but the concerts we all enjoy wouldn’t be possible without the countless crew members working behind the scenes. As Covid-19 continues to put many concerts on pause, we are extending a helping hand to the touring and venue crews who are in great need of support.”
Last March, the online music platform Bandcamp came up with an innovative way to help artists in need: For one day, the site waived its revenue share on all sales, giving musicians more of the money made off of each record, tape, or T-shirt. Fans responded in huge numbers, spending more than $4 million that Friday, and the platform chose to continue the practice for the first Friday of every month. Bandcamp has so far disbursed $40 million to artists and labels through its efforts.
Mission: “On the first Friday of every month since March, we’ve waived our revenue share to help support the many artists who have seen their livelihoods disrupted by the pandemic. Over the course of these nine days, fans paid artists and labels $40 million, helping cover rents, mortgages, groceries, medications, and much more. If you’re among the nearly 800,000 fans who participated, thank you.”
Created by the nonprofit Artly World, the Artist Relief Project is a grant-based fund that aims to support not only musicians but also all other artists and performers during the pandemic.
Mission: “The recent global health crisis has had a huge impact on the arts industry. Artists, musicians, and performers dependent on live events and face-to-face interactions have lost their main source of income, and it is uncertain when (and if) they will be able to resume their livelihood as normal. Now is the time to give back to these artists, musicians, and performers, who contribute so much to the joy, vibrancy, and quality of our lives and culture.”
Created in 1963 and based in New York, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts has run an emergency grant program specifically for artists affected by the Covid-19 pandemic since last spring, averaging about $1,600 per grant.
Mission: “Since its inception in 1963, the mission of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts has been to encourage, sponsor, and promote innovative work in the arts created and presented by individuals, groups, and organizations. FCA depends on artists to fund its programs; to date, more than 1,000 artists have contributed paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, performances, and videos to help fund grant programs that directly support individual artists working in dance, music/sound, performance art/theater, poetry, and the visual arts. Thus, FCA remains the only institution of its kind: created and sustained by artists to benefit artists.”
Named for New York’s historic venue, the Max’s Kansas City Project has provided aid and resources for musicians and other creative-arts professionals since its founding in 2001.
Mission: “We are dedicated to providing emergency funding and resources to financially distressed individuals in the creative and performing arts for housing, medical, and legal aid. One-time grants are awarded, ranging from $500 to $1,000. Special consideration is given, but not limited to, Max’s Kansas City’s extended family (those who worked at Max’s or were Max’s patrons).”
Though not specifically geared toward musicians, Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation has been providing extensive funding to other organizations combating the Covid-19 pandemic, including Feeding America, the Bail Project, the World Health Organization, and numerous local food banks and homeless shelters.
Mission: “In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, CLF has partnered with individuals and organizations to provide immediate help to communities around the world. Our collaborative efforts with our partners have totaled $36 million in funds to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, and 14 countries around the world received immediate Covid-19 assistance. Forty-five organizations received funds to support their initiatives and programs.”