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Musical genius and the power of patronage

Behind every successful musician is a wealthy benefactor, the belief goes.

Artists often struggle to balance their creative indulgences with the need to work a day job. Rare are the musicians with mainstream success who can continue their pursuit of artistic freedom while holding down a steady nine-to-five.

Luckily, there have always been those who are willing to support—and sometimes downright spoil—artists so they can indulge their creative fancies away from the daily grind. Without these patrons, some of the most iconic musical geniuses throughout history might not have come up with the tunes that we know and love.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

One of the most recognizable and enduring composers of the classical era, Mozartwas as prolific as he is influential. Thanks to the intensive training he received as a child, he was already an accomplished performer by the tender age of six!

Still, as a court musician under Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo of Salzburg, the revered composer struggled to make ends meet—until he met the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, who would eventually be a steady source of financial support through commissions. In addition, Mozart was also the recipient of rather generous tips from Baron Gottfried van Swieten of Vienna, who also financially supported the likes of Beethoven and Haydn.

Frank Sinatra

Much has been said about Ol’ Blue Eyes’ connections with the mob. In fact, it’s even been referenced in the classic movie, The Godfather, where a certain crooner named Johnny Fontane bears more than just a passing resemblance with Sinatra.

Rumor has it that Francis Albert’s connections with the mafia enabled Sinatra to make bold career moves such as getting out of a contract through the threat of violence (also alluded to in The Godfather) and land lucrative Hollywood movie roles. Regardless of whether Sinatra was indeed connected, he certainly did things his way. The Chairman of the Board was as untouchable as you could possibly get.

Freddie Mercury

Sometimes, it’s the musicians themselves who return the favor and bestow their riches upon the muses who inspired and supported them through the lean years.

Such was the case with Freddie Mercury and his one-time girlfriend/lifetime bestie, Mary Austin. Freddie left a chunk of money (reportedly half of his $75 million estate) to Mary as a testament to his enduring love for the woman he called “the only friend I’ve got.”

Behind the stage ostentatious persona was a true-blue musical genius who was able to merge the best elements of various musical genres, from classical to modern pop, into exquisite ear candy.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that Mary was the muse that inspired the genius.

Sergio Mendes

Who better to fund a musical career and elevate you from struggling musician status than the founders of a record company themselves?

Such was the case with Sergio Mendes, the man responsible for funky fresh anthems like “Mas Que Na Da.” Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, founders of A&M, walked into the studio to hear Mendes’ band Brasil ’66 one fateful day. The two were so floored by what they heard that they decided to sign him right there and then. As a result, Sergio was able to bring his masterful infusion of bossa nova tinged with lush jazz and funk undertones to the rest of the world.

Tupac Shakur

The rapper was already a notorious figure in the industry by the time he was incarcerated in 1995. Suge Knight, CEO of the infamous Death Row label of Interscope Records, bailed him out to the tune of US$1.4 million in exchange for a three-album record deal. Shakur headed straight to the studio and recorded as if there was no tomorrow.

Photo credit: MTV

That burst of creative energy resulted in All Eyez On Me, the first ever double-album release by a hip-hop artist, and the cult classic The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, which he released under the alias Makaveli.

Sadly, the move that got him out of prison might have also been the one that ultimately led to his untimely death in 1996.

Guns N’ Roses

Perhaps no other group of musicians personified the sex, drugs, and rock & roll ethos more than Guns N’ Roses. Things weren’t always all glam with these LA gutter rats, though. As struggling musicians, W. Axl Roseand guitarist Izzy Stradlin would smoke cigarettes for a UCLA experiment by day so they could play shady night clubs in the LA music scene by night. They would also befriend the strippers they performed with just so they could have a place to eat, sleep, drink, and do the nasty.

“Strippers were our sustenance for the longest time,” says Slash. One can only wonder if Axl and company would’ve been able to give us the warm “welcome to the jungle” that they did if it weren’t for their bikini-clad angels.

To the filthy rich patrons of these timeless musicians, we tip our hats, raise our wine glasses, and give our heartfelt thanks. They’re just as much responsible for providing the soundtrack to our lives as the musicians who penned them.

So, the next time you pass by a street musician, why not try to be a bit more generous? You never know, that bard may already be writing the next “Bohemian Rhapsody” and you just might be the wealthy benefactor they need.