When people think of Taylor Swift, chances are “philanthropist” isn’t the first descriptor that comes to mind. It’s not that the general populace is entirely unaware of the pop juggernaut’s myriad donations (Swift’s $250,000 gift to Kesha was big news in 2016), it’s just that the performer’s flashy album cycles, love life, political leanings (or lack thereof), record label wars and, of course, Kanye-Kardashian clashes tend to hog the headlines. But, as anyone who recently watched Swift’s Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, might realize, the “Lover” singer is publically and passionately invested in her adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, where she relocated from Reading, Pennsylvania at age 14.
Though the film spends a portion of the time exploring Swift’s decision to open up about her politics (in 2018, Swift announced public support for Tennessee Democratic US Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and railed against Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn), at the heart of Miss Americana is a woman who, in some way or another, has spent her entire career giving back to various causes in all three communities she has called home over the years: Reading, Pennsylvania, where she donated, $70,000 in books to her local library; New York City, where she gifted $50,000 in proceeds from her 2014 single “Welcome to New York” to New York Public Schools; and, perhaps most publicly, Nashville.
In many ways, Swift has spent her entire career with one eye on local issues. As far back as 2007, Swift, who was 18 at the time, teamed up with Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to combat internet sex crimes, launching a campaign to protect children from online predators. (The issue, if you’ll recall, was a hot-button one, with Congress eventually passing a law in 2008 that authorized $60 million of annual funding for state and regional underage sex crime investigations).
A few years later, in 2010, Swift created the Taylor Swift Charitable Fund in Nashville, which provided flood relief for a massive two-day rainfall that killed 26 people in the area. And that wouldn’t be the only natural disaster relief Swift would offer to Tennessee’s Music City: Three years later, in 2013, Swift gave $100,000 to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, which, at the time, was grappling with $40 million worth of flood damage to their building, in addition to ongoing financial losses left over from the Great Recession. It was, as Alan Valentine, President and CEO of the Nashville Symphony tells Uproxx over the phone, a “perfect storm.”
“We had played with her on the river when she was a teenager,” Valentine recalls. “She saw the trouble we were having and decided that we were a cause she wanted to do something about.
“It was just an incredible day,” Valentine continues. “Because it did two things: provide real help when we really needed it. But it was a much bigger thing than the money. It just really changed everybody’s outlook. [It helped] morale more than you can imagine.”
Valentine and the Nashville Symphony have hardly been the only ones impacted by Swift’s largesse. In 2012, Swift pledged $4 million to fund a new education center at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (the largest capital contribution by an individual in the museum’s history at the time), which opened in 2014 and featured three classrooms and a state-of-the-art children’s exhibit gallery.
“Taylor Swift represents country music’s best traditions,” said Museum Director Kyle Young in a statement that year. “By stepping forward to fund our education center, she has once again demonstrated that she has an eye on our industry’s future. We are deeply indebted to Taylor for this wonderful gift, which will help us continue to fulfill our educational mission and serve our worldwide audience. It is not an overstatement to say that the Taylor Swift Education Center will have a profound impact on our museum, our new campus, our city and even our country. It will truly be the heart of our living museum, educating and inspiring young people and families, teaching them country music history and helping them to make meaningful connections between the music and their own lives.”
Through the years, Swift has shown no sign of slowing down her benefaction toward Nashville. Just last spring, as many may remember, in conjunction with Swift’s newfound political openness and the equality-minded video for “You Need To Calm Down,” she donated $113,000 to Tennessee Equality Project, a pro-LGBTQ advocacy group. The gift, which came with a handwritten letter addressed to Chris Sanders, the group’s Executive Director, came at an ideal time for the organization, which fights against discriminatory legislation from the Tennessee General Assembly and has increased its supporter base to include more than 100 faith leaders to denounce six anti-LGBT bills, nicknamed the “Slate of Hate,” that are going through the state legislature.
“Dear Chris, I’m writing you to say that I’m so inspired by the work you do, specifically in organizing the recent petition of Tennessee faith leaders standing up against the ‘Slate of Hate’ in our state legislature,” Swift wrote.
“I stood up and sat down and stood up again when I got the call from her team that it was coming. I couldn’t believe it,” Sanders tells Uproxx in an email. “Your organization works hard for years without that level of support and then when the support comes it’s like an emotional burden has been lifted… She really got what we were trying to do and knew that it was the right move in a state like Tennessee… [Her gift] gave us the freedom to fight back rather than just get by.”
Not all of Swift’s local philanthropic efforts have been so public, though. Valentine is quick to note that the singer can be selective with which donations she chooses to publicize. “It’s not for me to disclose to you, but I happen to know she’s done a lot of things that nobody even knows about,” he says. “Things she wanted to do for other people. She did it very quietly. A lot of it is kept anonymous.
“I have to tell you, I just think the world of her,” Valentine continues. “I think she’s a really incredible person and I every time I see anybody being critical of her, I just think, ‘Man, you just don’t know what you’re talking about. You just don’t even know her.’”