BBC Music is changing. Find out more

It's almost become a cliché to say that acts of kindness restore our faith in humanity. They certainly occupy a special place in the news cycle, providing a rare glimmer of hope among a barrage of stories hard to qualify as 'good news'.

This is a list of 10 times when musicians truly went the extra mile (literally, in Bruce Dickinson's case), sometimes in secret, although of course we found out somehow. And just imagine how many more examples there must be that we know nothing about, and never will. Now, that does restore faith in humanity.

1. Prince's free concert at Gallaudet College, 1984

Even the most hardcore Prince fan will admit that we got to know him so much better after his death. We intrinsically understood that he was good to his fans by keeping ticket prices down and then playing sets so epic that they offered almost existential value for money, but we knew so much less of his humanitarian work while he was alive.

In 2001, he became a Jehovah's Witness, and was therefore thought to have been forbidden from speaking about his charitable deeds, but it was his nature as much as his religion that prompted his extraordinary kindness and examples of his generosity go right back to the peak of his fame. Take the time, for instance, that he played a surprise free concert for 2,500 blind and deaf students at Washington DC's Gallaudet College in 1984. The Washington Post's review of the gig was posted online after he died.

As CBS Minnesota pointed out in a 26 April article about his charitable activities, "It's possible the public will never know how much he gave, and to how many people." The Fader also published a list, as did many others. He gave millions, and make no mistake, even smaller things Prince did for people have lasting value:

2. David Bowie's letter to his first American fan

[LISTEN] Bowie at the Beeb

Great tales of David Bowie's good nature flooded out after his death too, but we've known about his letter to his first American fan since 2009, after it appeared on the excellent Letters of Note site.

It's a wonderful thing - a measured, charming, excited and poignant response, written in 1967, to a 14-year-old called Sandra Dodd from New Mexico, whose uncle had given her a promotional copy of Bowie's first album (he worked at a radio station).

"When I called in this, my manager's office, a few moments ago I was handed my very first American fan letter - and it was from you. I was so pleased that I had to sit down and type an immediate reply," Bowie begins, before answering questions Sandra had asked about his real name, birthday, height, and whether he'll ever visit America.

"Thank you for being so kind as to write to me and do please write again and let me know some more about yourself," the letter ends.

3. Scott Walker wishes Bowie happy birthday, Bowie sobs

Bowie, of course, was a hero to many, and he had his heroes, including Scott Walker, whose work with The Walker Brothers in the 1960s and his subsequent solo albums had a profound influence on Bowie's music.

In 1997, Mary Anne Hobbs surprised Bowie live on the air with a beautiful, heartfelt birthday message from Scott (above): "I'd like to thank you for all the years, and especially your generosity of spirit when it comes to other artists."

As for Bowie's response... hanky at the ready.

4. Rob Halford from Judas Priest sends a message of support to a troubled, gay teenage metal fan

Heavy metal stars may look fearsome at times, but you don't have to dig deep to find great stories about their respect and love for their fans. This one, though, is little-known:

In 2009, a teenager wrote to 'Jurgen Toksvig’ - the spoof, black-metal-loving alter-ego of music journalist John Doran - who's employed by Metal Hammer magazine as their agony uncle. The teenager, who was gay and out, complained to 'Jurgen' of being terrorised at school by bullies, who called him “abnormal”.

Coincidentally, Doran was due to interview the singer of Judas Priest, Rob Halford, also gay and out, soon after receiving the letter. He asked Rob for a message he could pass on to the teenager. Rob said: "You tell him from me that he is completely normal. It's the kids who are bullying him that aren't normal. The same thing happened to me at school. All he has to do is to bide his time because once he leaves school, those kids won't be able to touch him and they'll be nowhere. Tell him to stay strong because he'll win in the end."

The response was printed in Metal Hammer for the teenager to read. Months later, Jurgen received an email from the teenager saying that it had considerably helped him to hear that one of the world's biggest metal stars had been in the same situation as him.

5. Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson flies an endangered turtle to Spain

In the above clip, Iron Maiden singer and pilot Bruce Dickinson talks about his battle with throat cancer and also landing the band's famous jumbo, Ed Force One, at Cardiff airport.

If you've seen the brilliant Flight 666 documentary, you'll know that the group use Ed Force One to reach parts of the world (India, South America...) rich with metal fans, but not often visited by legends like Iron Maiden. And, in his capacity as a pilot, there are many other good deeds that Bruce has done.

For example, in 2008, it was revealed that he was one of the pilots who helped rescue passengers stranded by the collapse of airline XL. Then, earlier this year, he personally flew a sick turtle called Terri home to the Canary Islands in his private jet after it had been washed up in Jersey.

6. Eminem visits a teenage fan suffering from cancer

[LISTEN] Zane Lowe interviews Eminem, part 1

We could have mentioned any number of remarkable social media campaigns to get stars to meet their sick fans in this list, but are including this story of Eminem and Gage Garmo because it's particularly touching.

Gage, a 17-year-old fan of the rapper, was suffering from a rare form of bone cancer when the hashtag #GetGageGarmoToMeetEminem started trending on Twitter in January, 2015. Eminem was alerted by a member of his team and flew from his Detroit home to Michigan to surprise Gage. It was reported that Eminem "did not want the visit to become a media spectacle", so he arranged the trip in secret and spent an hour with the 17 year old at his home, although the press found out. Tragically, Gage died soon after meeting his hero.

7. Taylor Swift foils the internet by donating $10,000 to a school for the deaf

[LISTEN] Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran join Grimmy

We briefly mentioned this tale about Taylor Swift beating the internet at their own game in a recent article about publicity stunts that backfired, and it's a great story - about how the savvy, generous pop star turned potential PR disaster on its head and everybody won.

In 2012, users of Reddit and 4Chan sabotaged an online contest/marketing campaign, resulting in Taylor potentially being sent to perform at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Allston, Massachusetts. Taylor didn't visit the school, but she was embarrassed by how insensitive the trolls had been. She donated $10,000 to the school, as did the sponsors of the campaign (Horace Mann received $50,000 in total), and Taylor also offered every student tickets to her next local show.

"Are we the winner? Absolutely," the school's principal/headmaster Jeremiah Ford told The Boston Globe.

8. Brahms stuffs a music score full of money for his father to find

[LISTEN] Building a Library - Brahms: Violin Sonata in G, Op.78

Charity begins at home, the idiom dictates, and it certainly did for 19th century German composer Johannes Brahms, widely thought to be one of the good eggs in the history of classical music. He was successful in his lifetime and generous with his money - supporting charities, sometimes total strangers, and also his family.

In letters to his parents, he'd asked if they were fine for money. To ensure they were, it's thought he once gave his father a copy of the score for Handel's oratorio Saul, complete with instructions to study it if he was ever needing to feel happy. A surprise was contained within - Brahms had slipped bank notes between its pages.

9. Louis Armstrong gifts a tonne of coal to residents of a poor neighbourhood in Baltimore

[LISTEN] Desert Island Discs - Louis Armstrong

As a boy, jazz trumpeter and composer Louis Armstrong sold coal in the long-gone red-light district of New Orleans, Storyville, and later wrote a song called Coal Cart Blues. He knew the value of coal, not just as a commodity, but for what it brought to poor communities in winter - warmth, in a literal and metaphorical sense.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Louis was booked to play in a destitute section of Baltimore. According to Louis Armstrong: King of Jazz, a 1998 book written by Wendie C. Old, it was winter, and he knew his audience would be struggling to find funds to buy coal. So he bought a tonne himself and dumped it in the neighbourhood for locals to help themselves to.

Bonus Louis goodness: there's a terrifically endearing, and rather eccentric, letter he wrote to a fan serving in Vietnam on Letter of Note.

10. Beyoncé serandes Taylon, a terminally ill fan

We’ll finish with a video that speaks for itself. In 2013, Beyoncé granted the wish of a fan, Taylon, who was terminally ill and wanted to dance with her hero. And so, during the Las Vegas show of the Mrs Carter tour, Beyoncé swooped down to where Taylon was sitting and they did more than dance - they did call-and-answer vocals on the Beyoncé song Love on Top, then Beyoncé serenaded Taylon with the Destiny's Child classic Survivor.

Related links

Added item image
"
"
Added, go to My Music to see full list.
More from