Morgan Wallen Pledged $500K to Black-Led Groups. Where'd It Go? - Rolling Stone
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‘Exceptionally Misleading’: Morgan Wallen Pledged $500K to Black-Led Groups, But the Money Seems Largely M.I.A.

Rolling Stone reached out to dozens of state, regional and national Black-led or Black-founded charities. Only one reported receiving any money from Wallen, and it wasn’t nearly half a mil

Country singer Morgan Wallen poses for a portrait after getting a mullet at Paul Mole Barber Shop on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019, in New York. Wallen, who has turned heads with his likable hit song “Whiskey Glasses," said he decided to try a mullet after seeing old photos of his dad proudly rocking the hairstyle. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Morgan Wallen in 2019. The country star told 'Good Morning America' in July that he was donating approximately $500,000 to charity after he uttered a racial slur in February.

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

When Morgan Wallen appeared on Good Morning America in July for his first sit-down interview after being caught on video uttering the n-word, he promised to make amends.

“Before this incident, my album was already doing well; it was already being well-received by critics and by fans,” he told host Michael Strahan, five months after the video surfaced. “Me and my team noticed that whenever this whole incident happened, that there was a spike in my sales. So we tried to calculate … how much it had spiked from this incident. We got to a number somewhere around $500,000, and we decided to donate that money to some organizations, BMAC [the Black Music Action Coalition] being the first one.”

Nearly eight weeks after making these comments, however, it remains unclear if Wallen actually donated the entire amount he said he would. In a statement to Rolling Stone, BMAC — the only organization Wallen mentioned by name in his GMA interview — criticized the singer, saying they were “disappointed that Morgan has not used his platform to support any anti-racism endeavors.” While the group received some money from Wallen, they said the $500,000 number “seems exceptionally misleading.”

Rolling Stone reached out to 56 other state, regional and national Black-led or Black-founded charities. None of them reported receiving any money from Wallen.

On February 2nd, the country superstar was caught on tape saying that racial slur. In subsequent days, his label, Big Loud Records, “suspended” his contract — though the actual consequences of this action, if any, were never revealed — before lifting the suspension in May. Radio conglomerates and streaming services pulled his music from hundreds of stations and playlists. Country music network CMT removed his videos. (A source close to the situation confirms the network has not re-added his clips.) His booking agent, WME, dropped him as a client (a source close to the situation confirms that Wallen remains off their roster), and the Academy of Country Music deemed Wallen ineligible for this year’s ACM Awards. The Country Music Association also disqualified him for any individual categories at their upcoming awards, but he did earn a collaborative nomination for Album of the Year.

But in the days and weeks following the racial-slur controversy, Wallen saw his sales skyrocket. The singer’s album sales increased 1,220 percent the day after the video’s release, while his song sales were up 327 percent, according to Alpha Data, the data analytics provider that powers the Rolling Stone Charts. Dangerous: The Double Album topped the RS Album Charts for 10 weeks straight, including six weeks following the incident, and remains one of the biggest-selling albums of 2021, beating out pop stalwarts Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and Harry Styles. (Billboard estimated that in the nine days following the video’s surfacing, Wallen generated more than $2 million in revenue.)

“We urged Morgan to use his platform to do more than just apologize, but to strongly condemn racism and to support anti-racism efforts and initiatives” – BMAC organizers

Conceived last year in the wake of a racial reckoning in the music industry, the BMAC was created as “an advocacy organization formed to address systemic racism within the music business,” the organization states. “Our coalition advocates on behalf of Black artists, songwriters, producers, managers, agents, executives, lawyers, and other passionate industry professionals.”

BMAC organizers confirm to Rolling Stone that they met with both the Tennessee singer on his own and his management without him multiple times in February and March “in an effort to help him understand how deeply harmful, offensive, and unacceptable his use of the n-word was…. We urged Morgan to use his platform to do more than just apologize, but to strongly condemn racism and to support anti-racism efforts and initiatives.”

The organization says that they received $165,000 from Wallen in April, adding that “while we are appreciative of the money, which has been used to make grants directly to Black musicians through our Covid Emergency Relief Fund, we remain disappointed that Morgan has not used his platform to support any anti-racism endeavors.” (A rep for Wallen declined to make him available for this article.)

In an attempt to verify the musician’s GMA statement, Rolling Stone reached out to 56 Tennessee, regional and national Black-led or Black-founded charities. The list was created, among other sources, via Charity Navigator’s directory of Black-founded nonprofits, numerous roundups of Tennessee charities that were prominent in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, and a compendium of Tennessee charities amassed by Give Blck, an organization that has compiled more than 700 Black-founded nonprofits nationwide.

The list includes longtime national charities (United Negro College Fund, NAACP, Thurgood Marshall College Fund), regional popular organizations (Black Lives Matter Nashville, Nashville Black Chamber of Commerce, Gideon’s Army), and arts- and music-focused groups (National Museum of African American Music, Memphis Music Initiative, Memphis Jazz Workshop); ones that would seemingly be the likeliest subjects of Wallen’s largesse. Of the 56 charities contacted by Rolling Stone, not one said they’d been in contact with Wallen or his team or received any donation.

“We remain disappointed that Morgan has not used his platform to support any anti-racism endeavors” – BMAC organizers

While it’s possible Wallen made donations anonymously, it would signal an abrupt about-face to his previous, conspicuous public mea culpas, financial declarations, and charitable endeavors. In June, Wallen gave a surprise performance in Georgia for the Brett Boyer Foundation to raise money for children with congenital heart disease and Down syndrome. The next month, he launched the More Than My Hometown Foundation to “help children, adolescents, and teenagers find families that can provide warm, loving homes that can rebuild their confidence, self-belief, and to feel forever loved, with a forever family.”

Two weeks ago, Wallen performed at a benefit concert with Dierks Bentley, Cole Swindell, and Breland. As a press release disseminated by his publicist noted the next day, the event, billed as Morgan Wallen & Friends, raised an incredible $725,000 for victims of the devastating Humphreys County flood in Tennessee.

In its statement to Rolling Stone, the BMAC also chastised Wallen for his response to Strahan’s question on if he believed there was a “race problem in country music, overall.”

“It would seem that way, yeah,” Wallen replied. “I haven’t really sat and thought about that.”

“We are confused as to how Morgan has not given any thought as to whether there is a race problem in country music,” BMAC organizers say, “given the amount of time and energy we have specifically spent with him discussing this very issue. We would like to be clear: as our recent Report Card illustrates, there absolutely is a race problem in country music.”

“We began our interactions with Morgan and management being very direct about our feelings on what he had done, and making sure he was crystal clear that the n-word wasn’t some innocuous slang for him to use. Ever,” a member of the BMAC board tells Rolling Stone. “That the word had hatred and violence and blood behind it. We also shared with him, through personal stories, how the n-word had impacted Black people. We made clear that if he was open to learning, open to education, open to speaking up, and most importantly, open to helping educate his fans and followers, BMAC would be open to working with him to create awareness campaigns and initiatives around anti-racism. But that he first had to commit to doing the work.”

Wallen’s reckoning in the music industry appeared to be short-lived, with his label seemingly ready to return the singer to terrestrial radio, which remains the biggest barometer of mainstream success in the genre. Last month, Big Loud delivered “Sand in My Boots,” the third single from Dangerous and Wallen’s first in more than a year, to radio, ostensibly kick-starting Wallen’s full-throated comeback. (Several country radio stations started to add Wallen’s music back in June.)

“Sand in My Boots” is currently at Number 28 on Mediabase’s country chart — one of the biggest movers week over week — and is expected to swiftly rise.

UPDATE 6:53PM: Rolling Stone reached out again and again to Wallen’s representatives in the months after his GMA appearance. Those emails went unanswered, or were met with vague promises for more information “soon.” Those pledges were not fulfilled. 

After publication of this story, however, Seth England, CEO of Wallen’s label Big Loud, claimed to Rolling Stone that it (and not Wallen) had donated the $500,000. England said in an email that the alleged half-million dollar sum included “$100,000 earmarked and promised for further donations by year end locally.”  

England also highlighted as part of Big Loud’s donations $100,000 given to an outfit called “Rock Against Racism.” It’s a project of 5B Artists + Media, the managers of rock acts like Slipknot and Megadeth. In 2020, 5B applied to trademark the term for a concert series, and the Rock Against Racism Instagram account features a recent post offering a “last chance to win a VIP trip to the metal tour of the year.” The Rock Against Racism website, however, says it is a “fiscally sponsored project of The Giving Back Fund, a 501(c)(3)” nonprofit.

Finally, England claimed that Big Loud’s donations included “$300,000 to BMAC & Other Black Leader’s [sic] organizations of choice.” The money, he says, was given via the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a venerable Los Angeles nonprofit co-founded by Humphrey Bogart. For its part, BMAC insists it ultimately received only $165,000 — and stands by its statement that Wallen’s $500,000 pledge appears “misleading.”

In This Article: Morgan Wallen

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