Today in History: Live Aid Is Held

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Today in 1985 was the Live Aid concert, held in London’s Wembley Stadium. The concert was opened by Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. The concert was organized to raise money for African countries suffering from famine, and was broadcast globally.

Live Aid was a “superconcert,” lasting sixteen hours and being broadcast from multiple venues. After Wembley, the concert shifted to Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium, and then on to other venues around the world. It was watched by over a billion people in 110 countries. Live Aid ultimately raised $125 million from viewers.

The concept for the concert was originally Bob Geldof’s. Geldof was the frontman for the Boomtown Rats, an Irish rock band. He spent some time in Ethiopia in 1984 after news of a famine broke, and what he saw compelled him to try to recruit the UK’s most popular musical acts to record a single together.

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The result was “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” performed by Band Aid, a band that included Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, U2, Wham! and etc. When it was released, it was the best-selling single in British history. It also raised millions for charity.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was the inspiration for “We Are the World,” written by Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson. It was recorded by “USA for Africa,” an ensemble group consisting of Jackson, Ritchie, Bob Geldof, Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, and other performers. Like Christmas, the song rocketed up the charts. It also raised $44 million.

Live Aid, a continuation of the project, was organized in a mere ten weeks. It was held on July 13, 1985 and included over 75 different acts. Most of them performed at either Wembley or JFK. It was broadcast by thirteen satellites to over a billion viewers. Forty countries held telethons during Live Aid to receive viewer donations for the relief effort.

Phil Collins performed in London and then flew on the Concorde to perform in Philadelphia later in the day.

In total, Live Aid raised about $127 million for African relief. For his role in conceiving and organizing the concert, Geldof was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Geldof held another concert, called Live 8, in 2005. It was held in eleven countries and was intended to highlight the issue of global poverty. It was deliberately held in July just days before the G8 summit, to try to pressure public officials to take action.

An estimated 3 billion people watched the concert, which consisted of over a thousand musical acts performing on eleven different shows. It was carried by 182 TV networks and two thousand radio stations.

“We don’t want your money, we want your voice,” said Geldof of Live 8. It was designed not as a fundraiser but as a political advocacy gesture.

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