Activism / February 6, 2024

And the Winner Is… Annie Lennox and Artists for Cease-Fire

The singer’s call for an end to the killing in Gaza politicized the Grammys, which is fantastic.

John Nichols
Annie Lennox performing at the 2024 Grammy Awards.

Annie Lennox performing at the 2024 Grammy Awards.

(Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images)

The 66th Annual Grammy Awards show was a lot more engaging than most of its predecessors. Tracy Chapman’s performance of her song “Fast Car” with country signer Luke Combs was redemptive. Joni Mitchell’s performance of “Both Sides Now” was transcendent. Jay Z’sWhen I get nervous, I tell the truth” takedown of the Recording Academy for never quite getting it right was heartfelt and compelling. And Phoebe Bridgers and boygenius collected another deserved armload of awards.

But the artist who delivered the most urgent message Sunday night was Annie Lennox, the Scottish singer and songwriter who made her name with the Tourists and Eurythmics and went on to become a best-selling solo artist.

Always political, and always willing to take a risk on behalf of those politics, Lennox concluded a starkly beautiful tribute to the late Sinead O’Connor, an equally political artist, by raising a clenched fist and chanting, “Artists for cease-fire! Peace… in the world!”

She was not alone in her sentiment. For instance, the members of boygenius—Bridgers, Julian Baker, and Lucy Dacus—all wore red-and-black “Artists Call for Ceasefire Now” pins to the ceremonies. But it was Lennox who dared to deliver the message as part of a live performance on the stage Sunday night.

For a moment, she shifted the focus away from a glittering evening of performances by dynamic artists such as Dua Lipa, who has also called for a cease-fire, to the stark reality of what is happening in Gaza, where, as of Sunday, at least 27,478 people had been killed in the Israeli assault on the Palestinian enclave.

There will always be people who think that politics and culture shouldn’t mix, or that artists should keep their opinions to themselves. But popular music has long been associated with protest, and to try to separate songs from politics is to deny the energy, the anger, and the insight that often gives those songs their power. Great artists are often great thinkers and serious followers of world affairs. When they have a global platform to express their thoughts, the best of them recognize the potential to elevate not just the event in which they are participating but the broader discourse as well.

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That’s what Lennox did by drawing attention to the horror of what has been playing out in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. In particular, she reminded the audience, and the world, that many of our greatest performers are passionately engaged in the struggle to end the violence in Gaza, to avoid a wider war in the Middle East, and to identify a path toward peace and justice. Hundreds of artists, including Patti Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Gabriel, Janelle Monáe, Run the Jewels, Drake, Margaret Cho, and Tony Kushner have joined Lennox in signing the Artists for Ceasefire letter that urges President Biden to intervene with Israel on behalf of peace. The letter begins:

We ask that, as President of the United States, you and the US Congress call for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Gaza and Israel before another life is lost. More than 25,000 people have been killed over the last 3 months, and over 60,000 injured—numbers that any person of conscience knows are catastrophic. We believe all life is sacred, no matter faith or ethnicity and we condemn the killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians. We urge your administration, Congress, and all world leaders, to honor all of the lives in the Holy Land and call for and facilitate a ceasefire without delay—an end to the bombing of Gaza, and the safe release of hostages. Half of Gaza’s two million residents are children, and more than two thirds are refugees and their descendants being forced to flee their homes. Humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach them.

Biden has not listened enough to the dozens of Democratic members of Congress who are calling for a cease-fire, even though many of the most outspoken advocates—such as US Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, James McGovern of Massachusetts, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Ro Khanna of California, and Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal—are key leaders of his own party. So no one should expect him to change course simply because artists and entertainers are speaking up. But the voices of these artists and entertainers are being heard by the people in the US and around the world who are campaigning to save lives in Gaza, and by others who can and will join them.

This is a part of how movements are built, as Lennox, a longtime peace and justice activist, well understands.

“My stance is totally from a humanitarian standpoint, which must always be central to circumstances where the value of human life has been reduced to less than zero,” explained Lennox in a statement on Gaza that was released Monday:

So far over 2 million lives are being destroyed, with a rising death toll of over 27,000 and 66,000 wounded.

People have been forced to survive nightmarish conditions, with a severe lack of essential resources and supplies.

Hospitals, medical services and services are in dire need and barely able to function, while contagious diseases run rampant with starvation levels rising.

Constant terror, trauma, threat and bombardment accompanies each day.

This is no way reduces the plight of [Israeli] hostages and their families. who all continue to suffer the unimaginable pain of not knowing the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones.

I fail to see how any of this has done anything to contribute to a peaceful solution and am heartbroken for everyone who has been victimised by this ever-unfolding tragedy.

John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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