This year, President Donald Trump was confronted by more than a dozen musicians and bands with demands that he stop using their music at his rallies and events.
The attacks by left-wing artists and other apolitical musicians started the minute Trump began holding rallies after he came down from Trump Tower to announce he was running for president in June of 2015. Before that year closed, then candidate Trump was assailed by rock star Steven Tyler and his band, Aerosmith, for using songs including “Dream On,” and “Living on the Edge.” But the hits just kept on rolling with artists including Adele, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Neil Young, and even representatives for the Beatles, all of whom demanded that Trump pull their music from his events.
Those attacks continued in 2020. Here’s a list of those musicians protesting Trump playing their hits.
John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival
Former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty went after Trump this year for using his song, “Fortunate Son.” Fogerty claimed that he originally wrote the song to protest people just like Trump, and added, “The fact that Mr. Trump also fans the flames of hatred, racism and fear while rewriting recent history, is even more reason to be troubled by his use of my song.”
Like several others, Fogerty sent a cease and desist letter demanding that Trump stop using his music.
— John Fogerty (@John_Fogerty) October 16, 2020
In August, the estate of Leonard Cohen issued a statement directed at Trump and the Republican Party for using “Hallelujah” at the Republican National Convention and insisted that the artist had already told the RNC they can’t use his song. Apparently, the RNC ignored the demand and played it anyway.
The Trump campaign asked to use Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." They were told no. They did it anyway. https://t.co/vG0aJTtY6I
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) August 29, 2020
In July, rock group Linkin Park forced Twitter to remove a video retweeted by President Donald Trump, citing copyright infringement on their song “In The End.”
The video featured clips of Trump at his inauguration and other images with the song playing in the background.
The band also posted a Tweet decrying the use of the song:
Linkin Park did not and does not endorse Trump, nor authorize his organization to use any of our music. A cease and desist has been issued.
— LINKIN PARK (@linkinpark) July 19, 2020
Right after Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, rock legend Neil Young told the Trump campaign not to play his song “Rockin’ in the Free World” at campaign events. Young made similar demands during the ensuing years to stop Trump from playing some of his other songs.
In July, for instance, Young slammed Trump for using one of his songs during an event at Mount Rushmore.
I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux & this is NOT ok with me https://t.co/iPVcFplOHa
— Neil Young Archives (@NeilYoungNYA) July 4, 2020
Neil Young, an outspoken leftist, did, however, grant socialist Democrat Bernie Sanders permission to play his songs at his various campaign stops.
Brendon Urie and Panic! at the Disco
In June, Brendon Urie, of the pop band Panic! at the Disco, publicly objected to the use of his music at Trump rallies. He tweeted that the Trump campaign could go fuck itself.
Dear Trump Campaign,
Fuck you. You’re not invited. Stop playing my song.
Brendon Urie, Panic! At The Disco & company.
— Brendon Urie (@brendonurie) June 24, 2020
When the Trump campaign used “In the Air Tonight” at an October rally in Iowa, Genesis frontman, writer, and drummer Phil Collins quickly sent a cease and desist letter demanding that the song be removed from Trump’s rally play list.
The Rolling Stones
British rock legends, The Rolling Stones, were equally upset when “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was played during the 2016 Republican National Convention and threatened legal action to force the party and the Trump campaign to stop using Stones tunes.
“The Rolling Stones have continuously asked Trump to refrain from using their music. In May, Trump walked out for his Indiana primary victory speech to ‘Start Me Up,'” the band said in a tweet that was later deleted.
This year the Stones also told fans that that they had contacted BMI to try and get legal cease and desist notices sent to the Trump campaign.
The Tom Petty estate denounced Trump’s use of “I Won’t Back Down” at political rallies in 2020. The family also sent a cease and desist letter warning Trump against using the song.
— Tom Petty (@tompetty) June 21, 2020
In July, former Journey frontman Steve Perry reminded fans that he has not given any political campaign the rights to play his massive hit, “Don’t Stop Belivin.”
Perry tweeted his reminder after his song was played over a loudspeaker ahead of Trump’s address at Mount Rushmore in July.
As one of the songwriters of Don’t Stop Believin’, I have not given permission to any political candidate to use this song!
— Steve Perry (@StevePerryMusic) July 4, 2020
R.E.M. has taken several shots at Trump and his campaign for using the band’s music. Back in 2015, bassist Mike Mills took to Twitter and posted a profanity-laced tweet exclaiming that “power-hungry little men” must “not use our music.”
"Go fuck yourselves, the lot of you–you sad, attention grabbing, power-hungry little men. Do not use our music or my voice for your 1)
— Mike Mills 🎅🏼🎄❄️☃️ (@m_millsey) September 9, 2015
Mills complained this year about Trump using R.E.M.’s music, as well:
We are aware that the President* @realDonaldTrump continues to use our music at his rallies. We are exploring all legal avenues to prevent this, but if that’s not possible please know that we do not condone the use of our music by this fraud and con man.
— Mike Mills 🎅🏼🎄❄️☃️ (@m_millsey) January 15, 2020
The band was upset when the president used its songs including, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” “Everybody Hurts,” and “Losing My Religion.”
In June, Village People frontman Victor Willis demanded that the president stop using “Macho Man” and Y.M.C.A.” at rallies and sent a cease and desist letter to enforce the request. However, sending a mixed message, in February, the band said Trump was allowed to use their music.
“Like millions of Village People fans worldwide, the President and his supporters have shown a genuine like for our music,” the entire group said in a Facebook post. “Our music is all-inclusive and certainly everyone is entitled to do the YMCA dance, regardless of their political affiliation.”
Some of these bands may not have the ability to stop their music from being played, though.
Despite the lamentations, there are already legal provisions to allow political rallies, sporting events, or other large public events to use music without attaining the express endorsement of the events by the artists. Under the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) agreements, any music that a venue pays royalties to use can be played whether the artists approve of the reason for the gathering or not. However other licensing groups, including Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), will take legal notices from artists to have their music excluded for use at particular venues. Once an artist makes the request, BMI will then inform a license holder that certain songs are barred for use with their licensing agreements.
Of course, those above are just from 2020. Trump has been accosted by a dozen other artists over the last six years, as well.
Pop singer Eddy Grant filed a copyright complaint when he heard that Trump used “Electric Avenue” in a campaign video. Grant also sued the Trump campaign over the song despite that the campaign took down the offending video.
Alternative Rock band Nico Vega immediately tweeted that they did not support Trump’s use of their song “Beast” in a December tweet for Trump’s efforts to contest the stolen 2020 election.
To be clear, Nico Vega DOES NOT support the use of our song “Beast” in Trump’s recent video. Please read the attached screenshot for our full statement. https://t.co/jijBNp7cjS pic.twitter.com/k2qatmT66U
— Nico Vega (@nicovega) December 20, 2020
In 2016, Adele’s reps informed fans that the “Skyfall” singer never gave Trump permission to use her tunes.
Adele later told Vulture that she was supporting Hillary Clinton and did not want her fans voting for Trump. “Don’t vote for him,” she said. “I am English, but what happens in America affects me, too. I am 100% for Hillary Clinton. I love her, she’s amazing.”
.@Adele Just Snatched Donald Trump’s Ability To Use Her Music At Campaign Rallies https://t.co/5f3AILDgAo pic.twitter.com/Pb4lOzhs9W
— MTV NEWS (@MTVNEWS) February 7, 2016
Steven Tyler and Aerosmith
Rocker Steven Tyler was extremely unhappy when Trump began using his songs “Dream On,” and “Living on the Edge,” during the 2016 campaign. He and the band eventually sent a cease and desist letter to the Trump campaign to put an end to use of the music.
Tyler eventually jumped to Twitter to claim that he was not attacking Trump just because Trump is a Republican and that he does not allow any politician of any party t use Aerosmith’s tunes.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT DEMS VS. REPUB. I DO NOT LET ANYONE USE MY SONGS WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. MY MUSIC IS FOR CAUSES NOT FOR POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS OR RALLIES. PROTECTING COPYRIGHT AND SONGWRITERS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN FIGHTING FOR EVEN BEFORE THIS CURRENT ADMINISTRATION TOOK OFFICE.
— Steven Tyler (@IamStevenT) August 22, 2018
In July of 2016, the estate of the late George Harrison complained that the Republican National Convention used “Here Comes the Sun” during the 2016 party convention.
When The Boss discovered Trump used “Born in the U.S.A.” at his 2016 rally at Madison Square Garden, he strenuously “objected. But instead of taking any legal action, he loudly came to support Hillary and urged people, to boo his song when it played at Trump rallies.
Twisted Sister boss Dee Snyder turned against Trump’s use of his music even though he initially said that the president could use his song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” during the 2016 campaign cycle.
“It’s very upsetting to me, ’cause I strongly don’t agree with his extremist positions,” Snyder told Loudwire.
Earth, Wind & Fire
For their part, the members of Motown hitmakers Earth, Wind & Fire were not pleased when the RNC used “September” during the 2016 convention. “Another unauthorized use (September) at the Republican Convention, against our wishes — Earth, Wind & Fire,” the band tweeted after the convention.
Another unauthorized use (September) at the Republican Convention, against our wishes – Earth, Wind & Fire https://t.co/GV48JxcbGz
— Earth, Wind & Fire (@EarthWindFire) July 20, 2016
Eddie Levert and The O’Jays
Eddie Levert of The O’Jays also took issue with Trump playing the group’s hit “Love Train.”
“I wish him the best, but I don’t think he’s the man to run our country. So when he started using ‘Love Train,’ I called him up and told them, ‘Listen, man, I don’t believe in what you’re doing. I’m not with you. I don’t want you to use my voice. I’m not condoning what you’re doing,” Levert said in 2016.
“Rocketman” singer Elton John also jumped on the band wagon to stop Trump from using his music, In 2016, John’s publicist sent a cease and desist letter to Trump after the campaign was found using “Rocketman,” and “Tiny Dancer.”
Axl Rose and Guns N’ Roses
Axl Rose frequently complained about his band’s tunes being used by the president and at one point in 2018 told Twitter fans that Trump was using “loopholes” to play the music despite what its originators wanted.
Unfortunately 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.
Can u say “shitbags?!”💩
— Axl Rose (@axlrose) November 4, 2018
Of course, the president was using no “loopholes.” It is stated quite clearly in the licensing agreements what can and can’t be used.
The widow of Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti wrote a letter in July of 2016 asking Trump to stop playing, “Nessun Dorma,” one of her late husband’s most famous songs.
“We learned today that the aria ‘Nessun dorma’ performed by Luciano Pavarotti is being used [on] the Donald Trump campaign soundtrack,” Nicoletta Mantovani wrote in a letter, NBC News reported.
“We remind you that the values of brotherhood and solidarity that Luciano Pavarotti upheld throughout his artistic career are incompatible with the world vision of the candidate Donald Trump,” the letter said.
In October of 2019, the president tweeted a video that used Nickelback’s song, “Photograph.” The band quickly denounced the use of the song and had Warner Music Group issue a copyright claim. Twitter then removed the president’s tweet.
Free frontman Paul Rodgers complained about the RNC’s use of his song “All Right Now.”
“Permission to use ‘All Right Now’ was never sought for or granted by me. My lawyer is dealing with this matter. – Paul,” the British singer tweeted.
Permission to use "All Right Now" was never sought for or granted by me. My lawyer is dealing with this matter. – Paul
— Paul Rodgers (@_paulrodgers) July 18, 2016
Pharrell Williams was unhappy to discover that his 2013 hit, “Happy,” was being played at Trump rallies in 2018 and had his lawyers send a copyright and trademark infringement complaint. The hip hop producer threatened to sue the campaign over the use of the song.
The estate of late pop star Prince also sent a cease and desist letter to team Trump after “Purple Rain” was heard at a rally in 2019. The estate posted its objections in an October, 2019, tweet:
President Trump played Prince’s “Purple Rain” tonight at a campaign event in Minneapolis despite confirming a year ago that the campaign would not use Prince’s music. The Prince Estate will never give permission to President Trump to use Prince’s songs. pic.twitter.com/FuMUPzSWOe
— Prince (@prince) October 11, 2019
British rock band Queen complained about the use of its 1977 hit “We Are the Champions” during a Trump convention appearance.
“An unauthorised use at the Republican Convention against our wishes – Queen,” the band tweeted in 2016.
An unauthorised use at the Republican Convention against our wishes – Queen
— Queen (@QueenWillRock) July 19, 2016
In November of 2018, Rihanna threatened legal action when the president played “Don’t Stop the Music” at a rally.
“It has come to our attention that President Trump has utilized [Rihanna’s] musical compositions and master recordings, including her hit track ‘Don’t Stop the Music,’ in connection with a number of political events held across the United States,” the singer’s letter sent to the White House general counsel read. “As you are or should be aware, Ms. Fenty has not provided her consent to Mr. Trump to use her music. Such use is therefore improper.”
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