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Leonard Cohen estate “exploring legal options” over Trump’s Hallelujah use

By | Published on Tuesday 1 September 2020

Leonard Cohen

The Leonard Cohen estate has said that it is “exploring … legal options” after Donald Trump used the musician’s song ‘Hallelujah’ during the finale of his Republican National Convention speech last week.

It has now emerged that the Trump campaign requested specific permission to use the song in a live performance at the RNC event, which was denied. Despite this, an operatic version of the song was performed by tenor Christopher Macchio.

In a statement, the Cohen estate’s attorney Michelle L Rice said: “We are surprised and dismayed that the RNC would proceed knowing that the Cohen estate had specifically declined the RNC’s use request, and their rather brazen attempt to politicise and exploit in such an egregious manner ‘Hallelujah’, one of the most important songs in the Cohen song catalogue”.

She added: “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”.

Taken from Cohen’s posthumous album of the same name, ‘You Want It Darker’ begins: “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game / If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame / If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame / You want it darker / We kill the flame”.

Also confirming that use of ‘Hallelujah’ had been requested and specifically denied for the political event, Brian J Monaco from the song’s publisher Sony/ATV said in a statement: “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 actually used twice during the musical finale to the Republican Party’s big bash. As well as Christopher Macchio’s performance, the studio recording of Tori Kelly’s cover of ‘Hallelujah’ was played, alongside the more obvious RNC soundtrack choices of George M Cohan’s ‘She’s A Grand Old Flag’ and Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless The USA’.

In a subsequently deleted tweet, Kelly said: “Seeing messages about my version of ‘Hallelujah’ [being used]. All I know is neither myself nor my team received a request”.