Philanthropy in the Music Industry

When we think of philanthropy in the music industry, the first two names that spring to mind are probably Bono and Elton John. Both have used their celebrity to support a variety of causes, most notably AIDS research and treatment. Beyond the benefit concerts, recordings, and other fundraisers, they have founded organizations that have made a real impact.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised well over $200 million to support AIDS programs in more than 55 countries (See Elton John’s IP Profile), while Bono’s creation, (RED), has raised more than $240 million to benefit the United Nations Foundation’s Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and his other organization, ONE, raises tens of millions each year to support policy, advocacy, and awareness work related to Africa. (See Bono’s IP Profile.)

While these artists, and others like Paul McCartney, can raise funding and awareness for issues like few others, some of the deepest pockets, and therefore biggest givers are the ones that produce and distribute the records. So here are some of the most philanthropic record industry execs:

David Geffen

As the former vice chair of the Warner Bros. film studio and partner at DreamWorks SKG, Geffen could have just as easily been included on the list of biggest philanthropic film and TV execs, but since he made his start in the music industry and got his first big payday selling Asylum Records to Warner Communications, we’re including him here instead.

Geffen has made a habit of giving big to a select few organizations, starting with his first major foray into philanthropy, a $5 million donation to UCLA’s Westwood Playhouse in 1995, which was subsequently renamed the Geffen Playhouse. His largest single donation came in 2002, with a $200 million gift to what is now UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine, which he followed up in 2012 with an additional $100 million. Other major donations include $25 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, $25 million to the Museum of the Motion Picture Academy and $30 million to the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation.

While these donations account for most of Geffen’s more than $400 million in giving, he’s also been giving out $3 to $5 million per year through his foundation, funding a wide variety of organizations, and appears to be getting ready for more big things to come—his foundation currently holds around $90 million in assets, and in 2004 he pledged to give whatever money he made moving forward to charity, which at this point would amount to more than $2 billion. See Geffen’s IP Profile.

Herb Alpert

Most people probably recognize Alpert as the frontman for the Tijuana Brass, but may not realize that Alpert is also the A in A&M Records, one of the most successful labels of all time. Alpert has given away more than $110 million through his foundation, including more than $60 million to UCLA’s School of Music, which is named after him, and $23 million to the music program at Cal Arts. While education, and specifically arts education, is his primary focus, he also supports anti-poverty organizations, primarily in Los Angeles. His foundation’s assets and giving have dwindled in recent years, but he is nearly 80 and still has some $850 million sitting on the sidelines, so we’re expecting to see more big gifts soon. See Alpert’s IP Profile.

Jerry Moss

Alpert’s A&M co-founder has committed around $45 million to charitable causes, giving away $1.5 to $2.5 million per year, spread relatively evenly between health, education, animal welfare, and civil rights. His wife Ann appears to be a major driver of his philanthropy, and is particularly interested in protecting whales and dolphins, as well as children’s health, and learning disabilities. Also nearly 80, and with a net worth of $700 million, expect some bolder giving from Moss in the coming years. See Moss’s IP Profile.

Jimmy Iovine

The co-founder of Interscope and chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M doesn’t have much of a philanthropic record, but he certainly made headlines in 2013, when he and Beats Electronics co-founder Dr. Dre donated a total of $70 million to the University of Southern California to create the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation. With Apple buying Beats for $3 billion earlier this year, Iovine’s net worth has shot up to nearly $1 billion, really making him one to watch. 

Russell Simmons

The cofounder of Def Jam Records got some help from his brothers, one of whom is best known as Rev. Run of Run DMC, when he decided to create the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation in 1995. The organization runs arts programs that serve more than 3,000 disadvantaged urban youth annually, as well as two galleries that support the work of emerging and local artists. He’s also very active in human, civil, and animal rights, serving as the chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and the Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. Slavery Memorial, and supporting organizations such as the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, the Robin Hood Foundation, PETA, and the Humane Society. See Simmons’ IP Profile.