After Prince’s death, stories of his quiet, behind-the-scenes charity started to come out. Civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton took to Twitter to describe him as a “sincere humanitarian” and told how Prince would give him money to convey quietly to people such as the family of Trayvon Martin. He also donated a quarter of a million to solar power startups, another quarter to an organisation helping struggling families in South Carolina, and another quarter to a dance academy in New York. An entire million dollars went to a Harlem-based non-profit organisation for inner-city children living in poverty.
In 2014, the main water source for the city of Flint in Michigan was shifted from Lake Huron to the Flint River. A year on, locals raised alarms about lead poisoning, but as lead testing for children is not mandatory in Michigan, the dangerous levels weren’t picked up until scientists broke ranks and published their findings. Barack Obama declared a crisis in Flint in January 2016. Such disasters, sadly, are soon succeeded by others in the public mind, but not in the mind of Bruno Mars, who donated $1m of his profits from an Auburn Hills, Michigan show on his 24K Magic World Tour to the cause. “Ongoing challenges remain years later for Flint residents, and it’s important that we don’t forget our brothers and sisters affected by this disaster,” he said in a statement. “As people, especially as Americans, we need to stand together to make sure something like this never happens in any community ever again.” What a guy.
Chancellor Bennett AKA Chance the Rapper has always been a keen defender of his home city, even taking on Spike Lee when he felt his portrayal of Chicago in Chi-Raq rang false. But Chance’s love of Chicago goes much deeper than words. The city’s schools are suffering a funding crisis, with some even being forced to end their terms early. Chance demanded a meeting with state governor Bruce Rauner to discuss school funding, but the chat didn’t go well, and Chance was inspired to take things into his own hands. “The governor gave me a lot of vague answers in our meeting,” Chance said at a press conference where he announced the donation of $1m (in classic giant novelty cheque form) to Chicago schools, challenging local businesses to follow his lead.
In August 2016, 13 people died and 146,000 homes were destroyed in some of the worst flooding ever seen in the state of Lousiana. Taylor Swift had begun her 1989 World Tour in the state, and moved quickly to donate $1m to those affected by the flood, and a further $50,000 to a food bank in Baton Rouge. In the same year, she also donated $100,000 to those affected by Tennessee wildfires, $5,000 to a fan who’d lost her sister in a car accident, and a large undisclosed amount to an African parks charity on World Elephant Day. In 2015, she gave $50,000 to a fan suffering from leukemia who’d been unable to attend one of her gigs. Donating the money to a fund set up by the girl’s parents, Swift wrote: “To the beautiful and brave Naomi, I’m sorry you have to miss it, but there will always be more concerts. Let’s focus on getting you feeling better. I’m sending the biggest hugs to you and your family.”
In 2003, the revered blues, R&B and soul musician Ray Charles donated $1m to Dillard University, New Orleans, to create a new course about black culture, covering music, food, art, literature and more. And it wasn’t a one-off: the previous year, he’d donated $2m to Albany State University in his hometown of Albany, Georgia, and in 2000, $2m to Wilberforce University, Ohio – both historically black universities. As you might imagine, when he died in 2004, it was with a fine collection of honorary degrees.
Rihanna has taken many under her umbrella since hitting the big time. In 2012, she set up a foundation in honour of her grandparents, which hands out grants in support of health, education and culture. She has also fronted campaigns for fashion and cosmetic brands, raising millions for HIV and donated $100,000 to a food bank in New York after Hurricane Sandy, as well as another $100,000 for those hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. After her grandmother’s death from cancer, she donated $1.75m to the radiotherapy department of a hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados