Billy Joel Puts the Sound of Trumpeting Elephants Over the Tinkle of Ivory Piano Keys
Billy Joel wants to make sure that tickling the ivories never again means an elephant was put in harm’s way.
The Piano Man is using his world-famous voice to end the daily slaughter of elephants. In the video above, Joel narrates the latest campaign ad for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96Elephants.org site.
“Every day, 96 elephants are killed in Africa for their tusks,” Joel says in the video. “We can’t turn back time, but we can reverse this trend.”
Since 1978, African elephant populations have declined by 60 percent, mostly because of habitat loss, as well as the increasing value of their ivory tusks. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, poachers slaughtered 100,000 elephants across Africa—a number so unsustainable, biologists believe that the continent’s elephants could be extinct within two decades if the hunting doesn’t end.
While most elephant tusks end up as ivory carvings shipped to and sold in China, the U.S. was found to be the second-largest retail market for ivory products in the world, despite an international ban on ivory trade in 1990.
Loopholes in some state laws have allowed trade of antique ivory to continue, so some sellers disguise new ivory as old to get around the ban.
Use of ivory in musical instruments, such as piano keys and decorative inlays on guitars, is a significant driver of the trade. That realization has led Joel to take a stand against ivory use in instruments. Last year, the six-time Grammy award winner penned a letter backing statewide bans in New York and New Jersey on all ivory sales.
“There are other materials which can be substituted for piano keys,” he wrote on his website at the time. “But magnificent creatures like these [elephants] can never be replaced. Music must never be used as an excuse to destroy an endangered species.”
Bans on all ivory sales have since become law in New York and New Jersey. Similar legislation is currently making its way through legislatures in 10 other states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Connecticut.
“Still, some states are exempting musical instruments comprised of less than 20 percent by volume of ivory” from such bans, said WCS spokesman Stephen Sautner. “Under such bills, individuals would still be able to purchase and sell musical instruments made of less than a certain percentage of ivory.”
Other artists have joined Joel on the no-ivory train. This month, John Fishman, drummer for the longtime jam band Phish, spoke at a legislative hearing in Vermont on that state’s proposed ban on sales of both new and antique ivory.
“I understand that a big concern for the inconveniences that a ban on ivory would cause humans is the effect it might have on traveling musicians. I just can’t begin to tell you how crazy and absurd I think that is,” Fishman said during public comment. “We know that if we don’t put an absolute ban on the sale of ivory, elephants will disappear. We know that.”
U.S. guitar maker C.F. Martin & Co., which started phasing out ivory from its instruments back in the 1970s, announced last year that it was completely done with the ivory trade.
“Forty-five years ago we phased out the use of ivory,” chairman Chris Martin IV said at the time. “And yet today I’m still concerned about the horrible slaughter of elephants. This is a terrible shame and it should stop. And the only way it is going to stop is if people stop buying and using ivory.”
For a list of states considering legislation to ban ivory sales, go to www.96elephants.org.