Country Stars Give Back: 10 Musicians and the Charities They Champion
Country music stars are certainly helping Tennessee live up to its 'Volunteer State' nickname.
Nashville's celebrities have long been lending their names, voices, time and money to causes important to them. In fact, three big country artists made it onto DoSomething.org's 2013 list of the Top 20 Celebs Gone Good, which recognizes charitable stars.
It would be impossible to mention every charity-championing celebrity in one list, but The Boot is taking a closer look at the charitable efforts of some of country music's biggest -- and biggest-hearted -- stars.
Together with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Nelson organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985, to raise awareness about family farms being lost throughout the U.S. Over the years, the Farm Aid organization has raised more than $45 million to help American farmers and encouraged people to buy food from family farmers, create more markets for them to sell to and participate in lobbying efforts to help change the system on the local, regional and national fronts.
"There are so many things people have done to make me proud of Farm Aid, it's impossible to list them all," Nelson says. "Now we're waiting for one of those smart guys up in Washington to do something about it."
In 2014, Nelson and Young teamed up to aid another environmental cause, performing a benefit concert that helped fund the fight against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Brooks and Bo Mitchell established Teammates for Kids in 1999 as a non-profit corporation. The purpose of the foundation is to contribute financial resources to select non-profit organizations that effectively serve and benefit children, with a focus on health, education and inner-city services. The over 3,000 professional athletes involved, who compete in everything from baseball and football to golf and pro rodeo, contribute a sum of money, and the foundation triples that amount.
"When we started the foundation, we wanted to make sure of two things: Where does money go, and how much goes to the kids?" Brooks says on the foundation's website. "So we made it simple: 100 percent of the money goes straight to the kids. That's not a goal, that's the rule."
It's no secret that Lambert has a special place in her heart for animals and that helping her furry friends is one of her major focuses. The songstress held her first Cause for the Paws event in 2007, then benefiting the Humane Society of East Texas, and now supporting her own MuttNation Foundation. Lambert and her mother Bev started MuttNation in 2009 with the goal of "ending pet suffering and homelessness," according to the charity's Facebook page.
“I never know what to expect when Miranda goes to town in Tishomingo, [Okla.],” husband Blake Shelton says. “When she comes back, I never know what’s going to be in the car. I can tell you — I’m not kidding when I say 20, maybe 25, maybe 30 times — she’s come home from the grocery store, and there will either be a dog or a cat in her car. And they’re not always puppies, it might be a big, a — pitbull in there, and I’m going, ‘What the hell, you can’t just …’ ‘Well, it licked me so it was nice,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, but you don’t know if it has rabies or what.’”
MuttNation raised $400,000 through the first half of 2013.
Bentley began holding his Miles and Music for Kids motorcycle rides and concerts in Nashville in 2005, to benefit the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. Other events held across the country support Children's Miracle Network hospitals in cities like Phoenix, Ariz., Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Atlanta, Ga.
"This event has come to mean more to me after having a kid," Bentley says. "My daughter Evie was born on the morning of the event in Nashville in 2008, and I rode in the ride later that day. [All three of] our children are healthy, and it makes you appreciative and glad to help out at the same time."
The ninth annual event brought in a record-breaking $335,479. In 2016, Bentley put the event on hiatus, saying that he was "thinking and dreaming about what we might do next and how we can all keep making a difference together."
In 2003, seven years after Walker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he founded Band Against MS. The foundation seeks to provide educational resources for those living with the debilitating disease and funding for programs that seek a cure and help those currently living with MS.
Says Walker, "I was diagnosed with MS in 1996, and I have been in remission for 15 years, due in part to eating healthy, exercising, treatment and my relationship with my neurologist, but the struggle continues daily for many people with the disease."
Walker third annual 'Give MS the Boot' raised over $200,000 for the non-profit. That event, along with benefit concert Chords of Hope, are just a couple ways the singer raises money for Band Against MS.
All over the world, children are reading -- partly due to Parton's Imagination Library, which provides free books to kids worldwide.
“That’s one of the things I’m proudest of, of anything I’ve ever done,” she says. “You can’t educate enough children. A lot of that came from the fact that a lot of my own relatives didn’t get to go to school because we were mountain people. You have to get out and work and help feed the family. My own dad couldn’t read and write. And my dad was very proud of me. He got to live long enough to see the Imagination Library do well, so he felt like he had done something good too -- that he was the inspiration for it.”
The Imagination Library has given out more than 60 million books, with 750,000 distributed every single month. It recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Church may be all rock 'n' roll on stage, but he has a big heart, demonstrated recently by the launch of Chief Cares, a charity started by the singer and his wife Katherine.
Administered by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, with the fund established in 2013, Chief Cares seeks to serve people worldwide. Even though it was just established recently, it has already helped a Nepalese orphanage obtain beds and clothing, as well as offering schooling for area children. Chief Cares has also delivered Bibles and aid in Haiti and helped the Humane Society fund operations at their no-kill animal shelters.
Fans can donate on Church's website or by purchasing Chief Cares platinum seats at his shows, allowing them to see him up close and personal while benefiting needy people globally.
In Oklahoma City, Okla., there's a oasis of hope, known as OK Kids Korral, dreamed up by country star Keith and funded by the Toby Keith Foundation. It provides daytime and overnight lodging for pediatric cancer patients and their families, giving them respite in the midst of long, exhausting days, and offering a glimmer of hope. The home was in the works for 10 years and was a massive undertaking, with 16 overnight and day use rooms, a gourmet kitchen, an Oklahoma Route 66-themed indoor playroom, a game room, a theater and much, much more.
When he broke ground for the project, Keith said, "We’ve been working on the Korral for 10 years, and we’re finally going to open. Thank you to all of those people who have supported us over the years. Ten years goes by fast when you are working toward a goal this big.”
Since 2004, Keith's annual celebrity golf tournament, concert and auction have raised money for kids struggling with cancer, and in June of 2014, raised almost $1 million for OK Kids Korral.
The Reading, Writing and Rhythm Foundation was established by Wright in 2000, dedicated to improving the quality of music education in America's public schools. To pull that off, the non-profit raises money to provide musical instruments and equipment for schools' music departments. Wright is dedicated to this cause, holding a benefit concert each year.
"It's a testament to the artists and also to the fans, who come out to support us," she says, adding, “The fans in country music have been incredible. Country music fans are loving and supportive. They know I love ‘em, and as Minnie Pearl said, ‘If you love ‘em, they’ll love you back. And boy, are they!”
Morgan is the father of four kids, but his generosity reaches beyond his immediate family. The singer started the Dickson County Craig Morgan Foundation to assist foster children in Dickson County and Middle Tennessee.
“We always start with children,” Morgan states. “My wife and I have been really blessed; we have a house full of kids. And we’ve fostered in this community, and in the process of doing that, we’ve seen the need -- for example, we’d be on vacation, and Children’s Services would call and say, ‘We have a child that needs a home, can you take them?’ And we’re out of town. And we’d find out later that that child had to sit in that office for hours, waiting for them to try to find a family, and then sometimes they might find a family, and that family can only take care of them for a few hours or for the day. Then they’d go back, and they’d go through this process until they’re either returned back to the family or they’re placed in a more permanent foster program.”
With that in mind, his charity began. But he has bigger plans ahead. He and his wife Karen,are planning to build a home, Billy's Place, that will serve foster children in need -- specifically during the interim period when authorities are trying to find a permanent arrangement for displaced foster children. The avid outdoorsman and musician holds a yearly event to benefit his charity, with funds specifically going to Billy's Place. In 2014, it raised a whopping $60,000, bringing Morgan that much closer to breaking ground.