Musicians and artists are essential workers too

I don’t know about you, but music—maybe more than anything else—is helping me get through these tough times. Not just the entertainment—but also the hope for better days ahead.

For example, Joe Troop’s late spring song “A Plea to the US Government to Fully Fund the Postal Service” is still ringing true as we stare down the November election. “In times like these it’s fair to say we’ll need new ways to vote,” the Che Apalache bandmember sings. “But if the Postal Service dies, my friends, that’s all she wrote.”

Troop and many musicians and artists today are demonstrating the power of music and art to inspire, agitate, and organize for making change.

To that end, a few months ago I started an online house concert series called Songs for the Common Good to help musicians make up for lost revenue. It features artists who write songs about our common history, songs that help us break down barriers, and songs that lift up public values.

We started with the self-described “Southern Soul” singer Rissi Palmer—you can replay the concert on YouTube.

Next up is Amythyst Kiah, who also performs with Rhiannon Giddens, Lely McCalla, and Allison Russell as Our Native Daughters. Her song, “Black Myself,” was nominated for a Grammy and won best song at the 2020 International Folk Music Awards. The show is Saturday, September 26, 8pm ET/5pm PT. Tickets are $10-$20.  All the money will go to the artist.

I’m calling it Songs for the Common Good for a reason. In the Public Interest has been writing about our pro-public ideas and agenda all year—from public health to communication, food, water, and shelter. These public goods shouldn’t be privatized commodities available only to those who can afford them. They life’s essentials that we can only provide to all if we do it together.  

I firmly believe that art and music are also public goods that enrich democracy and need to be universally available. As singer Rosanne Cash says, working musicians are “the premier service industry for the heart and soul. We cannot survive without music.”

If that’s true—and it is—then we have to acknowledge that musicians (and artists, writers, filmmakers, dancers, etc.) and the workers who support them are also essential workers. (More on this point here.) Our heath and hatred crises have exposed a fundamental truth: We need art and music, and we need to experience it together.

It’s more than that. Music, like all art, is essential for our health, for community solidarity, for education, for developing an understanding of our common history (both the pain that it unveils and the progress we’ve achieved), for creating connections and fostering empathy—all essentials for a healthy society. It’s essential for life, society, and democracy to flourish and therefore needs to be available to all.

 “Music is life itself,” said jazz trumpeter and composer Louis Armstrong.

I hope you can join us for Amythyst’s show. If you want to be informed about future shows, sign up to get notifications here.

Music and art are essential public goods, and musicians and artists are essential workers. I’d love your support in finding creative ways to help them in these tough times.