Foundation Shuns Singer’s Benefit Concert Offer

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January 18, 2013; Source: WPRI

NPQ often takes note of those situations in which a potential nonprofit beneficiary turns down a contribution, and this incident is among that group: This February 20th will mark the 10th anniversary of a horrible fire that killed 100 people at a West Warwick, R.I. concert by the heavy metal band Great White. The fire began when the band’s tour manager lit some pyrotechnics that then ignited foam in the walls and ceiling of the nightclub The Station. Great White has agreed to pay $1 million to settle lawsuits brought by the families of people killed at The Station, but the settlement does not include any charges of wrongdoing on the part of Great White band members (the band has since parted ways and former members are disputing who has rights to the band’s name).

Jack Russell, who was the band’s lead singer when the fire occurred, recently announced a benefit show at a club in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Russell wanted proceeds from the concert to go to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation, which describes its mission as “to ensure that our loved ones…receive a proper and timely memorial upon the sacred ground where their lives were so tragically cut short.” But the Station Fire Memorial Foundation has indicated that it will not accept money raised by Russell’s planned concert. The foundation explained its reasons in a statement that reads, in part:

“This is due to the resentment and animosity still felt by many of the families and survivors that our very organization represents. We feel that the upset caused by his involvement would outweigh the amount of funds raised at this event. It is our intent as an elected board to put the needs and best interests of those we represent before any monetary gain. Mr. Russell’s manager, Ms. Valerie Ince, responded that she would remove the name of the SFMF from the event and another worthy charity would be chosen.”

That probably should have been the end of the story, but Russell or his publicist decided that a response was warranted and released a statement in which Russell said, “I am utterly saddened by the response of the foundation and the motives behind it.” In all logical fairness, the fire was not Russell’s fault and he may indeed have had nothing but the best of intentions here. That said, our advice to would-be donors in such sensitive and emotional situations is to let the grieving party’s, “No thank you” be the last word. –Mike Keefe-Feldman