Musicians and politicians have a lot in common — or so it seems. Both have to engage the public and often try to push for a cause or to deliver a message. Kanye West promised his candidacy on the 2020 presidential ballot; Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was supposedly another choice for The Oval. They know how to engage large crowds at concert venues, so why not give it a shot? “How hard can it be?” was the slogan of a failed governor of Texas Richard S. Kinky Friedman, and the answer was clearly “Very!”
Clay Aiken is the latest musician to throw his name in the hat — for a second time! — running for Congress in his home state of North Carolina. “North Carolina is where I discovered first that I had a voice. And that it was a voice that could be used for more than singing,” the 43-year-old former American Idol contestant said in his announcement video Jan. 10.
Perhaps a bid for the White House or the Senate is the latest version of a relationship hoax to promote new music and get your name out there in the media. If so, it seems to be working. A few decades ago it would seem unthinkable to have someone with no political experience holding prominent positions in the government, yet after the 2016 election anything seems possible … it’s just very hard to pull off.
Take a look at professional musicians who also performed on the political stage:
1. Krist Novoselic, Nirvana. An honorary member of the “Grange Party” (you haven’t heard of it, because there is no such party) ran for Wahkiakum County Clerk position in 2009. Why? To stand up to Washington’s laws that allow anyone under any party to run for office.
Did he win? Alas, no.
Where is he now? Still a musician.
2. Wyclef Jean. In 2010, after hurricane relief charity work, Wyclef Jean decided to take his efforts one step further – to the president’s office. It all came down to his eligibility as a Haiti resident. Speaking neither Creole, nor French did not help his case, even after all the work he put in to help hurricane-ravaged Haiti.
Did he win? No, Haiti residents were too skeptical of his competence.
Where is he now? A musician, and a writer.
3. Sonny Bono. A rare successful example of a musician-turned-politician, Bono was mayor of Palm Springs for four years (1988-1992). Frustrated after trying to open a restaurant, Bono decided to make changes from the inside, from the Mayor’s office. In 1994, he went even further and got elected to the US House of Representatives where he served until his death in 1998.
Did he win? Yes and Yes.
Where is he now? In our fond memories as both a musician and a politician.
4. Martha Reeves. In 2005, she wanted to try herself in the Detroit City Council. Martha Reeves spoke on behalf of musicians for better wages and royalties in front of Congress in 2007. Losing the reelection two years later, the lead singer of Motown girl group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas turned back to music. She is now a full-time performer with more than 50 shows annually.
Did she win? Yes.
Where is she now? Performing and looking after her family, as she has three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
5. Richard S. Kinky Friedman. “How hard can it be?’ was the slogan of the Texas Governor Candidate. Drawing less than 13% of the vote, he was sorely disappointed when it turned out to be very hard. Kinky was not deterred and might try running again in the future.
Did he win? No.
Where is he now? Writing music.
6. John Hall. From 2007 to 2011, he held a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (from the Democratic party). Expressing his interest in legalizing recreational drug use was not enough to keep him in the House, as the 19th district of New York did not want him back in 2010.
Did he win? The first time, but lost the re-election.
Where is he now? Performing solo and with his group Orleans.
7. Jerry Butler. As the longest serving Board Commissioner for Cook County, Illinois, Jerry Butler is still better known as a soul singer and songwriter. He continued to perform while serving, and recently also served on the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. You may have heard of him as one of the original members of the R&B vocal group the Impressions.
Did he win? Yes.
Where is he now? Still there (ever since the 1980s).
8. Jon Fishman. A member of the Phish musical group, Jon Fishman recently ran for a selectman position in Lincolnville, Maine. Crediting Bernie Sanders as his inspiration to try his hand in politics, he is now drumming up support for the issues familiar to any Bernie supporter.
Did he win? Yes, he was elected to the city council of the small community in June 2017.
Where is he now? On tour with Phish in between his meetings with the Council.
9. Waka Flocka Flame. A possible presidential candidate, the rapper promised to run for office in 2012 and indeed launched a campaign in 2015. He intended to legalize weed, ban dogs in restaurants and impose restrictions on people with big feet (we never got to find out how the last promise would have held up). Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were not impressed, and clearly the voters were not either.
Did he win? No.
Where is he now? Rapping and writing music.
10. 2 Chainz. The rapper wanted to do “this little mayor thing” for his hometown of College Park, Georgia, back in 2013.
Did he win? No, as he didn’t end up running.
Where is he now? Still in the rap industry.
11. Clay Aiken. A musician, politician, activist, actor, author, and television personality, Aiken can seemingly do anything life throws at him. The American Idol star is still exploring his career options. In 2014, he ran for Congress in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district and went as far as winning the Democratic Primary. Although he was not an idol of choice for the voters, that clearly didn’t stop him for round two. At the top of 2022, Aiken announced he was running for Congress again, but this time, in a bid to win North Carolina’s new sixth congressional district seat.
It also works the other way around: Condoleezza Rice, The Secretary of State for George W. Bush, almost became a concert pianist. She even performed for Queen Elizabeth II at the Buckingham Palace.