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Jason Isbell Will Donate Songwriting Royalties From Morgan Wallen Album to the NAACP

Chris Willman
·6 min read
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Jason Isbell, whose song “Cover Me Up” has been a staple of Morgan Wallen’s set for some time and was included on the smash “Dangerous: The Double Album,” says he has decided to donate his royalties from the Wallen album to charity — specifically, to the NAACP.

Isbell quote-tweeted a link to an Associated Press story that shared the widely spread news that Wallen’s album is still doing gangbusters in the streaming and sales realms, despite having his music being removed from nearly every radio station and major media platform in the country after being caught on video using a racial slur. The original tweet noted that “Dangerous” is now enjoying its fourth week at the top of the charts, despite his persona non grata status with music industry gatekeepers.

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Isbell added his note to the retweet: “So… A portion of this money goes to me, since I wrote ‘Cover Me Up.’ I’ve decided to donate everything I’ve made so far from this album to the Nashville chapter of the @NAACP.” Adding a seeming note of sarcasm, as Wallen’s most diehard fans continue to consume his music in mammoth numbers, Isbell added, “Thanks for helping out a good cause, folks.”

So… A portion of this money goes to me, since I wrote ‘Cover Me Up.’ I’ve decided to donate everything I’ve made so far from this album to the Nashville chapter of the @NAACP. Thanks for helping out a good cause, folks. https://t.co/Ch3FlDBmJf— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) February 10, 2021

Isbell’s manager says the singer-songwriter does not plan to comment beyond the tweet.

Before the scandal broke, when Isbell had previously been asked on Twitter about his feelings about Wallen’s version of “Cover Me Up,” the songwriter had been magnanimous about the country superstar’s rendering. Many of Isbell’s own fans, who generally tend to favor rock or Americana over the mainstream country coming out of Nashville, felt it was disrespectful to take a song that, while romantic in nature, pointedly addresses his own sobriety after an alcoholic past — which Wallen then placed in the middle of an album that celebrates the consumption of alcohol as one of its primary themes. Isbell, though, expressed gratitude for the cover and called off the dogs… before the N-word news broke.

Going back to Dec. 13, 2019, when the ascending Wallen was starting to sing “Cover Me Up” on tour, more than a year before his recording of it came out, Isbell tried to calm down his offended fans. “Guys it’s really cool that Morgan Wallen is singing my song,” he tweeted at that time. That’s what I’m trying to say.” It wasn’t a ringing endorsement of Wallen’s version, but he wrote: “Everybody just relax. You’re about to have to deal with your family at the holidays. This isn’t a thing to stress over.”

But come Feb. 3 of this year, Isbell was among the first celebrities to express his disgust with Wallen’s latest screw-up. “Wallen’s behavior is disgusting and horrifying,” Isbell tweeted then. “I think this is an opportunity for the country music industry to give that spot to somebody who deserves it, and there are lots of Black artists who deserve it.”

Wallen’s behavior is disgusting and horrifying. I think this is an opportunity for the country music industry to give that spot to somebody who deserves it, and there are lots of black artists who deserve it. https://t.co/14B77zLgMR— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) February 3, 2021

Up until today, Isbell hadn’t indicated that he would withdraw from financially benefitting from Wallen’s continued post-scandal success. No one else of note who stands to make money off Wallen’s album has come out and said they, or anyone else, shouldn’t be profiting off the country star’s music at the moment.

Wallen’s agency, WME severed its relationship with the troubled star, although that was turning down future income, not taking an immediate hit, since he’s not able to tour right now anyway. HIs record label, Big Loud, issued a statement that it was placing his contract in “suspension” for a indefinite period of time, with the support of Republic Records, the distributor of Wallen’s music. But neither company has explained what a suspension means, nor has there been any indication the labels would cease to profit from Wallen’s robust sales and streaming during a suspension.

The head of the NAACP’s Nashville chapter has publicly offered to meet with Wallen to discuss with him the offensiveness of his language, and BMI offered to have BeBe Winans meet up with him as well. As of last Friday, when Variety spoke with both the NAACP and Wallen, no contact had been made with Wallen. The singer has not made any comment since a brief apology the night TMZ first aired the video, and Big Loud has not said anything publicly since the following day.

SiriusXM, Pandora, CMT, the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Association and all of the nation’s top country music radio chains have said they were removing Wallen’s music for the time being.

Variety spoke with industry leaders about Wallen’s future last week, with many indicating that he might need a time-out of anywhere from six months to a year and a half to be welcomed back into country music’s fold, contingent on doing work on both racial and alcohol issues and engaging with the country community and Black community in meaningful ways. Whether the silent star is hearing these assessments of what he needs to do remains unknown.

But, as Isbell pointed out, Wallen is still in the good graces of a big portion of his fan base, many of whom are determined to run up his numbers even more as a response to “cancel culture” — which leaves the moral dilemma far from over for those who continue to depend on his career for their living.

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