Music speaks to all of us through melodies and lyrics about love or heartbreak, life or death. Throughout history, some musicians -- using the very public platform they have or had built for themselves -- will turn the spotlight on universal issues that affect us too, and in this case, the environmental future of the planet.
Regardless of what evolutionary theory you believe, there is no denying that our survival is dependent upon that of Mother Earth. In honor of a number of “green” songbirds, we have curated a Spotify playlist for your enjoyment — along with some stories about those New York artists, some lifers and others passing through, who have fought for environmental causes.
Carole King is the earth goddess of music. Having been born in Manhattan, she spent many years on that island incubating several partnerships that would help define her career (Gerry Goffin, Paul Simon, Neil Sedaka). Although King currently lives on a ranch in Idaho, where she is a Rocky Mountain Activist and runs an environmental blog, she — to us — will always be the “green” darling of New York.
Carole King marching in a snowstorm in Idaho. Photo Credit: The WIMN
Moby may live in Los Angeles now — but by way of Harlem. Not only is Moby a major innovator of electronic and experimental music, he has also practiced a vegan lifestyle for over 30 years. In 1995, Moby released the album Everything Is Wrong, which touches on “everything that is wrong” from the mistreatment of our ecosystem to the rapid depletion of natural resources caused by humans. He also keeps a journal on his official website that often brings up environmental issues and concerns.
Paul Simon is as New York as it gets, was raised in Queens. Music, family, and baseball were very important to him growing up. In recent news, Mongabay (an environmental news source) reports that “this June , [Paul Simon] and his band will embark on a 17-city U.S. concert tour that Simon believes will generate [millions of dollars] for the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and raise awareness for the Half-Earth cause and its leader.”
Paul Simon. Photo Courtesy Of: Mongabay
Brett Dennen, a California transplant who lived in Brooklyn for some time a few years back, is a fun-loving, “do no harm” kind of guy — and an endearing indie singer/songwriter. Besides his current vibrant website, Dennen teamed up with Reverb and Klean Kanteen in 2011 on a different website that promoted “greening” his tour stops in ways like providing free re-fill water stations and partnering with local “green” non-profits.
J. Cole moved to NYC after high school to pursue a professional music career, but not before proving himself an exceptional student at St. John’s University. Famously known as a rapper and record producer, Cole partnered with Reverb’s Campus Consciousness Tour in 2012 on an environmentally-friendly show and message for the student body at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.
Bonnie Raitt learned how to play guitar in New York. Enough said. That signature bluesy rock ‘n’ roll sound is not the only thing she works on — Raitt, with the help of The Guacamole Fund, donates profits from hand-selected seats at nearly every show to local environmental non-profit organizations. She is also a founding member of MUSE — Musicians United for Safe Energy.
Bonnie Raitt. Photo Courtesy Of: Shorefire Media
Sting wrote “Englishman in New York”, just -- surprisingly -- not about himself. The thing is, he is a New Yorker, and we are proud to include him in this list! Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, co-founded The Rainforest Foundation Fund in 1989. This environmental organization, under Sting’s guidance, has successfully protected millions of acres of rainforest all over the world.
Nick Carter, natural-born entertainer and pop sensation, hails from Jamestown, New York. Carter is a “green” advocate, in the past has served as special ambassador for environmental conservation organizations like United Nations Environmental Programme and International Coral Reef Action Network.
Pete Seeger, a New Yorker most of his long life, has left a legacy of music and political activism — especially as an environmentalist, having founded Clearwater, a sailboat dedicated to conducting science-based environmental education on his beloved Hudson River.
Arlo Guthrie, much like others on this list during the 1960’s era of protest, is a politically-infused folk musician. Son of Woody, Guthrie was born and raised in Brooklyn. The Guthrie Foundation in Massachusetts is his eco-“do-good” organization — a non-profit supporting education on issues like environmental and cultural preservation.
David Byrne, the Scottish-born quirky, musical genius who mesmerizes with classics like Psycho Killer, moved to NYC in the 1970’s where he founded, fronted, and wrote songs for Talking Heads. A long-time cycling enthusiast, he, along with the New York City Department of Transportation, designed “artistic” bicycle racks to be placed all over Manhattan and Brooklyn that would encourage residents to use this alternative, and environmentally-friendly, means of transportation. And if that isn’t messaging his stance on community, give his track “(Nothing But) Flowers” a close listen!
David Byrne standing next to one of his bicycle rack designs. Photo Credit: Wallpaper*