Embattled country star Morgan Wallen pledged to donate $500,000 to the Black Music Action Coalition and other Black-serving organizations after a video of him using a racial slur surfaced in February 2021.
In September, Rolling Stone published a report that called into question whether Wallen had made good on his vow with a headline alleging "the money seems largely M.I.A."
But USA TODAY confirmed with Wallen's manager, Seth England, as well as through written records, that Wallen distributed the majority of funds as promised.
This week, Wallen donated the remaining $100,000 of his $500,000 promise to the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville.
Tuwisha Rogers-Simpson, vice president of brand and partnerships for the museum, confirmed to USA TODAY that the money was received on behalf of Wallen's foundation.
She added that she "had the opportunity to tour and share our mission with Morgan as he was eager to learn more in a sincere effort to grow."
The funds will support education and operational initiatives at the museum, Rogers-Simpson said.
The Sept. 20 Rolling Stone story noted it was "unclear if Wallen actually donated" the $500,000 and said the publication asked 56 state, regional and national Black-led or Black-founded charities and none said it had received money from Wallen. Wallen had never publicly specified which organizations he planned to donate to other than the BMAC.
The story included a statement from the BMAC criticizing Wallen for not using "his platform to support any anti-racism endeavors.” While the group told Rolling Stone that it did receive "some money" from Wallen, "they said the $500,000 number 'seems exceptionally misleading.'"
Here's where the donations went
But USA TODAY's research found that in April, Wallen donated $300,000 to the BMAC in the names of 20 people who had counseled him following the incident, when he used a racial slur during a night of partying. Those individuals were given the option to funnel their respective $15,000 donations to a charity of their choice, or keep the money within the BMAC.
Of that money, $165,000 remained with the BMAC, an amount that a spokesperson for the organization confirmed to USA TODAY. According to documents reviewed by USA TODAY, the remaining $135,000 was distributed to several smaller charities of the individuals' choice. Among the organizations they chose to donate to were: Young People's Chorus of New York City, which provides children from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds a musical education; Teen Dream Center, a Nashville ministry for inner-city youth; Beatrice W. Welters Breast Health Outreach & Navigation Program, a cancer-fighting group that does outreach through community gathering places such as salons, churches and mosques; and the Right Hand Foundation, which provides housing and educational resources to single mothers and children in Atlanta.
Additionally, in May, Wallen's label, Big Loud Records, donated $100,000 to Rock Against Racism on behalf of the singer, confirmed Cory Brennan, founder of the nonprofit, which is aligning musicians and music industry leaders to combat systemic racism. The money, Brennan said, will go toward education and action plans for the organization.
“We’ve been a part of Morgan’s life for over five years and are grateful to have gotten to know him and his heart. We know who he is and who he is striving to be. We’re seeing the work that he is putting in and are confident in the steps that he is taking,” said Big Loud partners Craig Wiseman, Joey Moi and England in an exclusive statement to USA TODAY.
After publication, Rolling Stone adjusted its story to detail Wallen's donations.
The Morgan Wallen controversy explained
In February 2021, a video surfaced on TMZ of Wallen being dropped off at a house and telling a friend to "take care of this ... (racial slur)," apparently referring to another person in the group.
Rebuke from the music industry was swift.
Big Loud Records suspended his contract, his songs were pulled from radio stations – including the largest conglomerate, iHeartRadio – and CMT yanked his videos off-air. The Academy of Country Music pulled Wallen from eligibility for the 56th annual ACM Awards.
Mickey Guyton, who was the first Black female solo artist to receive a Grammy nomination in a country music category, tweeted at the time, "The hate runs deep." Singer/songwriter Jason Isbell, whose song "Cover Me Up" was recorded by Wallen on his "Dangerous" album, called Wallen's behavior "disgusting and horrifying," and pledged to donate royalties from Wallen's cover to Nashville's NAACP chapter.
At the time, Wallen released a statement saying "I’m embarrassed and sorry. I used an unacceptable and inappropriate racial slur that I wish I could take back. There are no excuses to use this type of language, ever. I want to sincerely apologize for using the word. I promise to do better.”
While the industry largely shunned Wallen, his fans rewarded the singer with skyrocketing album sales.
A Feb. 19 Billboard report estimated that in the nine days after the video surfaced, Wallen generated more than $2 million in sales and streaming revenue, while his album, “Dangerous: The Double Album,” remained atop the Billboard 200 album chart for a fifth consecutive week.
What did Morgan Wallen do next?
Wallen was largely silent in the months after the incident. After posting an apology video to YouTube, where he asked his followers who defended him to stop, he announced he would not be performing over the summer. He had been set to open for Luke Bryan's Proud to Be Right Here tour and perform at several music festivals.
Later, Wallen initiated a slow-and-steady return to the public eye, sharing acoustic performances on social media and even briefly returning to the stage at Kid Rock's honky-tonk in Nashville.
In July, the singer made his first post-controversy appearance on “Good Morning America." He revealed to host Michael Strahan that after the incident, he checked into a rehab facility for 30 days in San Diego, saying the TMZ video captured him at the end of a "72-hour bender."
"(I was) just trying to figure it out," he told Strahan. "'Why am I going this way? Do I have an alcohol problem? Do I have a deeper issue?'"
Wallen said he met with members of the BMAC, as well as gospel star BeBe Winans and music executives Kevin Liles and Eric Hutcherson. When Strahan asked Wallen about his sales increase following the controversy, Wallen explained that the funds he pledged to donate to Black-serving groups were, in part, a response to that.
“Me and my team noticed that whenever this whole incident happened, that there was a spike in my sales. So we tried to calculate … how much it had spiked from this incident," he said. "We got to a number somewhere around $500,000, and we decided to donate that money to some organizations, BMAC being the first one."
In November, Wallen announced he would be returning to the road with "The Dangerous Tour," kicking off Feb. 3 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana. A 45+ show tour includes stops at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Staples Center in Los Angeles and Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Earlier this month, Wallen made a surprise appearance alongside his Big Loud label-mate ERNEST at the Grand Ole Opry to perform the duo's ballad "Flower Shops."
Almost immediately, the Grand Ole Opry's Twitter feed was inundated with fierce backlash to Wallen's appearance due to the perception that the top-selling artist has yet to significantly atone.
Contributing: Cydney Henderson, USA TODAY, and Dave Paulson and Marcus K. Dowling, The Tennessean
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Morgan Wallen fulfills $500K pledge to Black groups: Track the money