Embattled country star Morgan Wallen has pledged to donate $500,000 to the Black Music Action Coalition and other organizations serving black people after a video of him using a racial slur surfaced in February 2021.
In September, Rolling Stone released a report that questioned whether Wallen had kept his vow with a headline alleging “the money seems largely MIA.”
But USA TODAY confirmed with Wallen’s manager, Seth England, as well as through written documents, that Wallen distributed the majority of the funds as promised.
This week, Wallen donated the remaining $100,000 of his $500,000 pledge to the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville.
Tuwisha Rogers-Simpson, the museum’s vice president of brand and partnerships, confirmed to USA TODAY that the money was received on behalf of the Wallen Foundation.
She added that she “had the opportunity to tour and share our mission with Morgan as he was eager to learn more in a sincere effort to grow.”
The funds will support the museum’s educational and operational initiatives, Rogers-Simpson said.
Rolling Stone’s September 20 story noted that it was “unclear if Wallen actually donated” the $500,000 and said the publication asked 56 state, regional and national charities directed or founded by blacks and none had said they had received money from Wallen. Wallen had never publicly specified which organizations he planned to donate to other than BMAC.
The story included a statement from BMAC criticizing Wallen for not using “his platform to support any attempt to fight racism.” While the band told Rolling Stone they had received “some money” from Wallen, “they said the $500,000 figure ‘seems exceptionally misleading'”.
Outlets including Insider, Complex, Vulture and NME ran stories based on Rolling Stone’s report with headlines saying it was “breaking its promise to donate” and the money was “short.” “.
Here’s where the donations went
But USA TODAY research found that in April, Wallen donated $300,000 to BMAC on behalf of 20 people who advised him after the incident, when he used a racial slur during a night of party. These individuals were given the option of channeling their respective donations of $15,000 to a charity of their choice or keeping the money within BMAC.
Of that money, $165,000 remained with BMAC, an amount a spokesperson for the organization confirmed to USA TODAY. According to documents reviewed by USA TODAY, the remaining $135,000 was distributed to several small charities of the individuals’ choice. Among the organizations they chose to donate to were: the Young People’s Chorus of New York, which provides children from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds with a musical education; Teen Dream Center, a Nashville ministry for inner-city youth; Beatrice W. Welters Breast Health Outreach & Navigation Program, a cancer group that does outreach in community gathering places such as living rooms, churches and mosques; and the Right Hand Foundation, which provides housing and educational resources to single mothers and children in Atlanta.
Additionally, in May, Wallen’s label, Big Loud Records, donated $100,000 to Rock Against Racism in the singer’s name, confirmed Cory Brennan, founder of the nonprofit, which aligns musicians. and music industry leaders to fight systemic racism. The money, Brennan said, will go towards education and the organization’s action plans.
The remaining $100,000 was intended to be donated to black-led organizations in Tennessee by the end of the year, according to Wallen’s management.
“We have been a part of Morgan’s life for over five years and are grateful to have gotten to know him and his heart. We know who he is and who he strives to be. ‘he is doing and are confident in the action he is taking,’ Big Loud partners Craig Wiseman, Joey Moi and England said in an exclusive statement to USA TODAY.
After publication, Rolling Stone adjusted its story to detail Wallen’s donations.
The Morgan Wallen controversy explained
In February 2021, a video surfaced on TMZ of Wallen dropping off at a house and telling a friend to “deal with this…(racial slur)”, apparently referring to another person in the group.
Rebuke from the music industry was swift.
Big Loud Records suspended his contract, his songs were pulled from radio stations – including the biggest conglomerate, iHeartRadio – and CMT took his videos off the air. The Academy of Country Music removed Wallen from eligibility for the 56th Annual ACM Awards.
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Mickey Guyton, who was the first black solo artist to receive a Grammy nomination in a country music category, tweeted at the time, “The hate runs deep.” Singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, whose song ‘Cover Me Up’ was recorded by Wallen on his ‘Dangerous’ album, called Wallen’s behavior ‘disgusting and horrifying’ and pledged to donate royalties from Wallen’s coverage to the NAACP Nashville Chapter.
At the time, Wallen released a statement saying “I am embarrassed and sorry. I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There is never an excuse for using this type of language. I sincerely want to apologize for using that word, I promise to do better.
While the industry has largely shunned Wallen, his fans have rewarded the singer with soaring album sales.
A February 19 Billboard report estimated that within nine days of the video’s release, Wallen generated more than $2 million in sales and streaming revenue, while his album, “Dangerous: The Double Album,” remained atop the Billboard 200 album chart for a fifth consecutive week.
Peak sales: Why did Morgan Wallen’s popularity skyrocket after a racial slur controversy?
Following:Morgan Wallen’s Sales Spike, His Sister Slams ‘Culture Culture’ After Being Recorded Using Racial Slurs
What did Morgan Wallen do next?
Wallen remained largely silent in the months following the incident. After posting an apology video on YouTube, where he asked his supporters who defended him to stop, he announced he would not be performing over the summer. He was to open Luke Bryan’s Proud to Be Right Here tour and perform at several music festivals.
Later, Wallen initiated a slow and steady return to the public eye, sharing acoustic performances on social media and even briefly returning to the honky-tonk stage at Kid Rock in Nashville.
In July, the singer made his first post-controversy appearance on “Good Morning America.” He revealed to host Michael Strahan that after the incident he checked himself into a rehab facility for 30 days in San Diego, saying TMZ video captured him at the end of a ” bender of 72 hours”.
“(I was) just trying to figure it out,” he told Strahan. “‘Why am I going this way? Do I have a drinking problem? Do I have a deeper problem?'”
Wallen said he met members of BMAC, as well as gospel star BeBe Winans and music executives Kevin Liles and Eric Hutcherson. When Strahan asked Wallen about his increased sales as a result of the controversy, Wallen explained that the funds he pledged to give to black-serving groups were, in part, a response to this.
“Me and my team noticed that every time this whole incident happened, there was a spike in my sales, so we tried to calculate…how much it had increased because of this incident,” he said “We came up with a figure of around $500,000, and we decided to give that money to certain organizations, BMAC being the first.
In November, Wallen announced he would be hitting the road again with “The Dangerous Tour,” which kicks off Feb. 3 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana. A 45+ show tour includes stops at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Los Angeles’ Staples Center and Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
Earlier this month, Wallen made a surprise appearance alongside labelmate Big Loud ERNEST at the Grand Ole Opry to perform the duo’s ballad “Flower Shops.”
Almost immediately, the Grand Ole Opry’s Twitter feed was awash with fierce reactions to Wallen’s appearance due to the perception that the top-selling artist has yet to meaningfully redeem.
Contributor: Cydney Henderson, USA TODAY, and Dave Paulson and Marcus K. DowlingThe Tennessian