Harry Chapin was a remarkably generous singer/songwriter and activist.  Half of all the concerts that he performed were benefit concerts, mostly to fight hunger and poverty.  No other

Harry Chapin was a remarkably generous singer/songwriter and activist.  Half of all the concerts that he performed were benefit concerts, mostly to fight hunger and poverty.  No other artist has ever made that kind of commitment.  He and I co-founded WhyHunger in 1975 and Harry raised more than 80 percent of the budget as well as funded several other hunger, education and arts organizations.

When he died suddenly in a car accident in 1981, we lost our leading spokesperson and fundraiser.  All of us involved in the organization knew we needed new partners to survive and thrive.  The first was Kenny Rogers who funded our World Hunger Media Awards for several years.  Harry’s musical brothers Tom and Steve were already involved and increased their efforts.  Peter, Paul and Mary performed a concert for us in 1985 that helped us to actually hire a staff member and pay the rent.  That same year we held our first fundraising Hungerthon live at the United Nations and broadcast on WNEW FM.  Dozens of artists performed right there in the visitor’s entrance of the UN and Crosby, Stills and Nash did a live concert in the General Assembly.  We have done the Hungerthon every year since with the help of multiple radio stations and artists.  Musicians and the music community rallied to keep our doors open in those early years.  Because of them we have been able to help millions of people access nutritious food and we have become a grassroots support organization that has made vital connections for hundreds of community based organizations all over the country.

Bruce Springsteen has been our partner in our Artists Against Hunger and Poverty program from its onset more than 25 years ago.  Whenever he goes on tour we connect him with one or more hunger/poverty organizations and he gives them tickets to auction, allows them to collect money and often visits with them.  He will often speak from the stage, educating his fans on the issues of hunger and poverty and encouraging them to get involved. Then he backs up his message with powerful songs written about justice and change. We estimate that Springsteen has helped raise more than $11 million for our partners on the frontline fighting hunger and poverty.  He has also raised much needed funds for WhyHunger.

Dozens of other artists have been part of our extended family; performing at concerts, autographing memorabilia and giving us concert tickets and meet and greets.  Many of them also talk from the stage about their involvement and the continuing problem of hunger and poverty, perform at rallies and marches or lend their voice to a campaign via social media.  And, of course, through the music itself.  Music has always played a role in social movements across generations, laying down the beat that keeps so many activists sustained and energized.  

We encourage artists to directly connect with their local community based organizations  and in turn community based organizations are encouraged to tap into local artists of all varieties.  Not all artists may be able to raise six or even five figure donations, but they are welcome additions to an organization’s outreach.  They can bring the power of music to support events and campaigns and to perhaps introduce a whole new audience to their work.  We suggest that community organizations start small and build on local talent, emphasizing the value of an artist’s appeal to folks that may not know anything about the organization or the cause.  At WhyHunger, sports figures, celebrity chefs, business leaders and other media personalities have joined artists to make a difference by communicating with their audiences and raising funds to bolster our efforts to end hunger and poverty.

Musicians and the music community in general have raised a significant amount of money and awareness for a variety of non profits including hunger and poverty organizations over the years.  How can we work together as musicians, fans and activist and community-based organizations to tap into the power of music and grow the emerging hunger and food justice movement as artists did during the Civil Rights Movement?  The opportunity and the need are there and together, we believe we can create lasting change.

Bill Ayres

Co-Founder and Executive Director