The singer-songwriter’s estate and Sony/ATV Publishing say that they specifically declined the Republican National Committee’s request for the song, but it was played anyway during the final night of the convention, as Trump delivered his acceptance speech from the South Lawn of the White House.
Michelle Rice, legal representative for Cohen’s estate, said in a statement that they were “surprised and dismayed” that the RNC would use the song knowing they “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.”
She said that they are exploring legal options but also got in a dig at the campaign.
“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,” Rice said.
Sony/ATV Publishing also weighed in. Brian Monaco, its president and global chief marketing officer, said, “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.’ We declined their request.”
The song was heard at least twice — once as Tori Kelly’s prerecorded rendition and then as performed live by opera singer Christopher Macchio from the White House balcony.
A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee did not immediately return a request for comment.
This hardly is the first time that the Trump campaign has run into opposition from musicians for the use of their music. Tom Petty’s family objected to the use of “I Won’t Back Down” at a Trump rally in June, for instance. The Rolling Stones also sent a legal warning to the campaign over the use of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which had been a Trump standard.
In fact, complaints about Trump using specific songs date to the previous presidential race. Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” was played when the then-Apprentice host announced his candidacy after descending an escalator at the Trump Tower in New York in June 2015. He later was condemned by the members of Queen for using “We Are the Champions” at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Multiple complaints have been raised since then by Rihanna, who objected to the use of her hit song “Don’t Stop the Music” at a 2018 Trump rally in Tallahassee, FL; by Pharrell Williams, whose Oscar-nominated “Happy” was played at a Trump rally hours after 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018; and by Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie, whose “High Hopes” played at Trump’s Phoenix event this year.
Hallelujah has become a standard, not just at public events, but in movies like Shrek and, more recently, the trailer for Justice League: The Snyder Cut. Although it’s been used to mark moments of tragedy and joy, the words, as critics have noted, don’t necessarily lend themselves to celebration.
David Robb and Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.