The estate of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen is not rejoicing over the use of his song "Hallelujah" at the Republican National Convention.
Cohen's estate and music publisher had actually turned down the Republican National Committee's request to use the tune, but it was played twice anyway as fireworks exploded over the White House after Donald Trump's lengthy closing speech Thursday night -- first in a recorded version by Tori Kelly, then in a live performance by opera singer Christopher Macchio from a White House balcony. Now the estate is considering legal action.
"On the eve of the finale of the convention, representatives from the Republican National Committee contacted us regarding obtaining permission for a live performance of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah,'" said a statement issued by Brian J. Monaco, president and global chief marketing officer for Sony/ATV Music Publishing. "We declined their request."
Michelle L. Rice, legal representative of the Cohen Estate, also released a statement, saying, "We are surprised and dismayed that the RNC would proceed knowing that the Cohen Estate had specifically declined the RNC's use request, and their rather brazen attempt to politicize and exploit in such an egregious manner 'Hallelujah,' one of the most important songs in the Cohen song catalogue. We are exploring our legal options. Had the RNC requested another song, 'You Want It Darker,' for which Leonard won a posthumous Grammy in 2017, we might have considered approval of that song."
In a now-deleted tweet, Kelly said neither she nor her team had been asked for permission to use her recording, Variety reports. Her version of the song was used in the 2016 animated film Sing.
"Hallelujah" is indeed one of the Canadian musician's most beloved songs. It's been recorded by numerous artists, including some from the LGBTQ+ community. Rufus Wainwright's version of the song was used in the 2001 film Shrek, and k.d. lang recorded it for her 2004 album Hymns of the 49th Parallel and has performed it at several major events, such as the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Other artists or their representatives have likewise objected to Trump's use of their songs at campaign events -- among them Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, and the estate of Tom Petty -- and some have threatened legal action. Rolling Stone (the publication) sought comment from the Republican National Committee regarding the Cohen Estate but so far has received none.
But "the president's campaign may have procured what's called a blanket license that would allow him to use certain songs at public events without having to seek case-by-case permission," the Los Angeles Times reports.
Many fans of Cohen, who died the day before the 2016 presidential election, were outraged at the use of the song, as Cohen's worldview was far different from Trump's, The Independent reports. Also, some who commented about the matter on social media thought it ironic that the "America First" president would use a song written by a Canadian.
Earlier in the evening, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, walked onstage as a recording of a song by an Englishman played, and a gay Englishman at that -- "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John, who has frequently criticized Donald Trump. But John has not threatened to sue.
Trump and his supporters may not exactly get the message of "Hallelujah," and many others have misinterpreted it as well, Mikael Wood writes in the L.A. Times. It's more bleak than celebratory, he explains, as it "uses its gorgeous melody -- 'the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift,' as the lyric itself puts it -- to deliver some stark thoughts on the inevitable disappointment of being alive."
Trump has used some other not-so-appropriate songs at campaign events, such as the Rolling Stones' downbeat "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and the Village People's gay anthems "Y.M.C.A." and "Macho Man." Victor Willis of the Village People recently asked that the Trump campaign cease playing the songs, reversing his earlier position, Rolling Stonereports. His shift came after Trump had peaceful protesters forcibly cleared so he could have a photo op with a Bible in front of a church in Washington, D.C.
Those who tweeted their objections to the use of "Hallelujah" included LGBTQ+ activist Charlotte Clymer and liberal political commentator Jill Wine-Banks: