Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel | Musicians Turned Politicians

Track 68 | They wanna be elected!

Popular music and democracy are mutually exclusive. There are loads of performers with title designations — like, for example, Prince of Pop, King of Rock and Roll, Queen Of Soul, Godfather of Funk, The Boss, Chairman of The Board — but nobody ever gets tagged as Mayor of Pop, Councillor of Rock and Roll, Utilities Commissioner of Soul, Trustee of Funk, The MP of Jazz or the Steward of Punk. Only appointed positions, no elected ones. Weird.

There are, however, individuals who have made a move away from music for a real-deal career in politics, often unsuccessfully. I never had much interest in politics myself, despite once being courted by the NDP and playing bass in a punk band called Sock Caucus.

The first real musician-turned-politician I thought of is the late Sonny Bono, who served as the mayor of Palm Springs for four years. He ran after getting angry with the city over permits for his restaurant. Following his term as mayor, Bono decided the beat should go on, and he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. He managed to get elected to the House of Representatives in 1994 where he served until his fatal skiing accident in 1998.

John Hall of the ’70s band Orleans — famous for their topless photos and the hit Still The One — was also elected to the House of Representatives in 2006. Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas proved she has somewhere to run to after all, and served a four-year term as councillor on Detroit City Council in 2005.

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine
Club Astra, Berlin.

Nobody who is/was a fan of the music would be surprised to discover Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra has run for office twice. His first attempt was way back in 1979 when he sought the mayor’s office in San Francisco. More specifically, he sought to make it law that all business types had to ditch their suits for clown outfits within city limits. The 21 year old had only changed his name from Eric Boucher the year before, and actually finished fourth out of the ten candidates. In 2000 Biafra went up against Ralph Nader to be the presidential nominee for the Green Party and lost.

He isn’t the only punk to run for office. Canada’s own Joey Keithley — better know as D.O.A. frontman Joey Shithead — has run in several provincial and civic elections as a Green Party candidate, eventually winning a seat on the city council in his hometown of Burnaby, B.C.

Like Biafra and Keithley, Midnight Oil lead vocalist Peter Garrett has long been political and eventually left the music business almost entirely in 2004 when he successfully ran and was re-elected to Australia’s House of Representatives. He served as the nation’s minister of education.

Youssou N’Dour (below) wasn’t successful in his bid to be president of Senegal, but he was appointed to two different positions — Minister of Culture & Tourism as well as Special Advisor To The President. I believe I saw him open for Peter Gabriel in Ottawa in the summer of 1987.

It’s a similar storyline for Walking Dead actor and singer Reuben Blades, who was appointed as tourism minister after an unsuccessful run for president of Panama.

Fugees MC and solo artist Wyclef Jean wanted to run to be president of his native Haiti in 2010, but wasn’t allowed because he hadn’t been a resident there for at least five concurrent years leading up to the election campaign.

Blur drummer Dave Rowntree ran to be a Labour MP in the U.K., unsuccessfully. He did, however, get elected to Norfolk County Council. Woo-hoo. Luther Campbell — one half of 2 Live Crew — ran for mayor of Miami-Dade County. He got 11% of the vote. John Fishman of the group Phish (rimshot) successfully ran for council of the small town of Lincolnville, Maine in 2017. Clay Aiken, who rose to prominence as an American Idol contestant in 2003, twice ran unsuccessfully for congress in North Carolina.

Peter Wishart, the one-time keyboard player for Big Country, has been a Scottish MP since 2005, like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside. Almost the most successful politician or would-be politician on this list. Lots of folks were probably hoping that would be former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke. He’s better known as a politician than a musician, but used to be bass player in a band called Foss, whose lead vocalist went on to be the singer in The Mars Volta.

So who is the most successful politician who used to be a musician? Well, I think that honour goes to former Impressions member and solo vocalist Jerry Butler. He’s the longest-serving Board Commissioner for Cook County, elected continuously from 1986 to 1994. But, he’s also in both the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Only the strong survive (or serve).