The Slaight Family Foundation Pledges $10 Million to Canadian Music Industry Charity
Elton John is currently on his long-running Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour which so far has grossed over $44 million this year alone. At Toronto’s Rogers Center in September, the 75-year-old pop icon sang, “You can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plow.”
Did he have a smirk? Because he and his Canadian-born husband, David Furnish, had just purchased a swanky penthouse in Toronto. It is their sixth house. John told The Globe and Mail he wasn’t sure what his upcoming retirement from touring would bring him. He’ll be fine, though – no tag sales for the Rocket Man.
Needless to say, most musicians aren’t anywhere near as comfortable in their golden years as John. To that end, the Slaight Family Foundation Legacy Program was created to financially support retirees in the music community. or experience long-term medical problems.
“Generally, there are no upsides in this industry,” says Gary Slaight. “If you’re a musician or someone in the business, you can’t count on anything at the end of your career.”
Slaight, 71, is president and CEO of the Slaight Family Foundation, a major private philanthropic foundation founded in 2008 by his late father, Allan Slaight. The foundation has just pledged $10 million to the Canadian music industry charity, the Unison Fund, to be spread over the next five years.
The funds will be split between the existing Unison industry assistance program (which has provided more than $8 million in financial assistance to more than 5,000 Canadian music workers since 2015) and the new legacy program.
In, say, the 1980s, the music industry was teeming with money. Ozzy Osbourne started the decade singing Fly high again at a time marked by the advent of compact discs which energized the company. Pension plans? It was for teachers and morons.
“I don’t think young musicians back then thought about their future,” says Derrick Ross. “You were trying to make enough money to get by, and if you had extra money, great, you bought a car.”
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Ross was the drummer for the Canadian new wave band Spoons. He then became an executive at EMI Music Canada and is currently president of music incubator Slaight Music. He says sophisticated young musicians are much better organized today, often enlisting the services of business leaders. And while 40 years ago Spoons was able to start a company and set aside money for things like a supplemental health care plan, most musicians don’t have that luxury.
“We had some success, so we could afford Blue Cross,” says Ross. “However, not all musicians have this success.”
Even musicians with recording contracts don’t have benefits covered for them.
Neither do the many industry workers (roadies, music publicists, tour managers) who are employed by a major record label or concert promoter, such as Live Nation Canada. They operate as freelancers and independent contractors with no safety net.
“We lost everything in a house fire in 2017 and were homeless for about a month,” says Kathy Hahn, an industry stalwart who helped launch MuchMusic in the mid-1980s. “The Unison Fund gave us rent for our new place and money for groceries.”
Montreal singer-songwriter John Cody also received assistance from the Unison Fund. Suffering from chronic health issues, including a debilitating neurological condition, the 59-year-old is no longer able to work as a professional musician. In the past, Unison has paid medical bills and provided counseling services.
“If I have problems, they help me,” says Cody, who has written songs for Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt and sung on recordings including Tom Cochrane’s. life is a highway.
Cody wonders why the Canadian music industry isn’t doing more to take care of its own. “Without Gary Slaight, who would help us? Why doesn’t CARAS help? »
CARAS is the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, a not-for-profit organization that administers the Juno Awards and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He is also associated with MusiCounts, a music education charity.
While its American counterpart, the Recording Academy, operates the MusiCares Foundation, CARAS does not guarantee a program that covers health, financial and rehabilitation resources for music professionals. But that doesn’t mean the industry isn’t doing its part.
The Unison Fund depends on donations, including support from the three major record labels in Canada: Warner Music Canada, Universal Music Canada and Sony Music Entertainment Canada. And the main donor, the Slaight Family Foundation, is part of the Canadian music industry.
Founder Allan Slaight was a Canadian media mogul who in 1958 became the program director of the Toronto rock ‘n’ roll radio station CHUM. In 2007, his empire included 53 radio stations. The Slaight family made their money through music – and they reinvested a lot of it back into the ecosystem. For example, the foundation donated $10 million to the recent Massey Hall revitalization project.
But for those helped by the Unison Fund, it’s not just about the money. “It’s about care,” Cody says. “I have no idea how I would have survived the last few years without Unison.”
Unison offers counseling referrals for people with mental health issues. According to statistics from Unison, crisis response doubled during the pandemic, when the live music industry was shut down for long periods.
“I had a therapist who was very helpful to me,” Cody says. “But he retired a year ago.”
There are many circulating.