35 years ago today….

One of the college questions last year was about a day in history that you would like to be a part of – I’m sharing my cousin’s repsonse!! She would have liked to travel back to an event 35 years ago today. I think I would have liked to join her on this trip.

July 13, 1985, “the day music changed the world.”

An October 1984 BBC report on famine in Ethiopia changed the course of Irish singer Bob Geldof’s life, “he was stood against the wall,” and had to do something.

The result was the record-breaking fundraising Band Aid album, followed by Live Aid; a 12 hour simultaneous trans-Atlantic charity concert in Philadelphia and London, broadcast live to 110 countries that raised over $100 million in one day. Phil Collins flew the Concorde and performed at both locations, U2 skyrocketed to international fame, and Queen’s magical performance is still making spines tingle.

Live Aid’s legacy is immense – it forever connected celebrities with philanthropy, spurred millennial involvement in charity, and propelled telecommunications toward global connectivity.

There are so many historical events – but I would have really liked to be in Wembley Stadium, London on that summer’s day in 1985. 

Me too!!

The Power Shift

How do you roll up the Vietnam War, the civil rights marches, the youthful and modern presidency of John F. Kennedy, the voice of Martin Luther King, the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins, the landing on the moon, Twiggy, the liberation of women, and above all the magic of the Beatles into one thing? For me the answer lies in the Museum of London in a simple short black and white polka-dotted mini dress with a diagonal line across it;  the faces of the Beatles on one side, and a guitar on the other. 

The power of this dress lies in its simplicity, its lack of fussiness, and its revolutionary length – all of which defined a generation.  The generation that was born at the end of World War II, came of age with the uselessness of the Vietnam War, spent their college years marching for equal rights for all, refused to dress like their parents, or listen to their parents music – this generation perhaps made the world a better place for future generations more than any generation before or since then.

It was a simple shift dress, the kind that is worn by a young girl – it defied the hold of Paris couture houses and rose from the streets where the young people marched and demanded a better life for the rest of us.  It was a dress that an unskilled young girl could have stitched together – but it made the most skilled designers in the world sit up and take notice.  The shift was shifting power – from the couture houses to the street tailors, from the upper classes to the middle classes, from the elite to the masses, from Harvard to Greensboro state college, from Oxford to Liverpool, and for the first time, in tiny amounts, from men to women.

A sense of gratitude washed over me as I stood in front of this dress, and the generation that wore it – they made it possible for me to be in control of the length of my hemline – and of my future. 

Beatles Dress.4

This is a guest post from Tara Sawhney who is studying in London for one semester.  This was a vignette she wrote after a visit to the Museum of London.

Scaramouch , should we fandango?

I fell in love with Queen when, strangely enough, I was working on my National History Day project in 8th Grade.  The topic that year was a person who had made a difference, and I picked Bob Geldof for his work in the 1980s to help the Ethiopian famine victims.  It was while working on this that I saw Queen’s Live Aid performance and fell in love with their music.  For the next few weeks I heard “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “We are the Champions” endlessly – especially “Bohemian Rhapsody.”   The song just mesmerizes you – it’s a magical combination of opera, rock, with international melodies thrown in and the most unbelievable lyrics.  The song was written by Freddie Mercury himself – and it’s evident from the lyrics that there was a lot more substance to him than one would expect from a self-centered rock star.  Let’s look at some of the words that one never hears – Scaramouch – what exactly is a Scaramouch?

“I see a little silhouette of a man

Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the fandango”

According to the Webster dictionary a Scaramouch is a character in the Italian commedia dell’arte that burlesques the Spanish don and is characterized by boastfulness and cowardliness.

Ummm….. Ok? – well that clears that up.

And a fandango for those who care to know is “a lively Spanish dance for two people typically accompanies by castanets or tambourine.”

No one really seems to know what exactly the song means – and that perhaps adds to its enduring popularity.

Freddie Mercury T-Shirt
Freddie Mercury’s Image on T-Shirt

Freddie was born Freddie Bulsara to a Parsi family. Like so many colonial families, his family relocated from India to Zanzibar, and then to England.  All of these influences shaped his life and his music.

Freddie was not only a brilliant songwriter, singer and piano player – he was also a marketing genius. By the time of Live Aid, Queen’s popularity was on a decline.  Freddie knew this, and saw Live Aid as a chance to change all that. In a short performance, he sang all of Queen’s best hits and was in complete control of the crowd on both sides of the Atlantic.  He gave an flamboyant, charismatic performance – perhaps the best ever in a live concert.   With that he ensured his  music would live on forever.  And last week, more than 25 years after his death,  when I walked into a store, I realized he had managed to do just that.

Freddie Mercury.1

Live Aid – Pre-tech live Streaming

In 1985, 1.9 billion people across the globe watched Live Aid being broadcast simultaneously from two continents across the Atlantic Ocean.  Think about that for one second – it happened before there was the internet, before there was email, and before cell phones. 

This “live streaming” was done by satellites to television screens.   It may not be too much of a stretch that with Live Aid Bob Geldof started a revolution in the global telecommunication structure. In a matter of weeks Live Aid and Bob Geldof pulled together international television downlinks in multiple countries; navigated broadcast rules, treaties and legal agreements; and turned the three big broadcasets ABC, CBS, and NBC temporarily from competitors into collaborators.

Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats performig in Wembley Stadium

“Live Aid was a turning point in the global competitive and regulatory telecommunications infrastructure we see today. It brought new forces into the relationships between broadcast property owners and the rapidly evolving technological playing field. Geldof made that happen. Thanks to Geldof and the musical champions of Mandela’s cause, a fractured broadcast industry was brought together and able to beam messages of hope and freedom.” Carrington Davis, Wharton Magazine, December 12, 2013

Live-Aid – Impact on Philanthropy

On October 23, 1984 Bob Geldof saw a BBC report about a famine in Africa.  Little did he know that the report would not only change his life forever but that his response would leave an astounding legacy that would impact an untold number of lives in Africa, forever changed the face of philanthropy, and be the spring board to bring television and global telecommunication technology into the 21st Century. 

In 1985, Live Aid embodied the purest of motives: a desire to help and a belief that each one of us can make a difference. There was both a touching innocence and an electrifying energy about that hot summer July day. Live Aid was the first to harness the powers of mass media and peer-to-peer persuasion to bring the world together around a targeted cause – and in the process it started  the trend of high-profile, celebrity-endorsed charitable efforts, and changed the face of philanthropy forever. It also started the Millennial trend on devoting time to a cause instead of simply donating to charity.

In her July 13, 2015 article in The Atlantic Kristie York Wooten sums up the impact brilliantly with, “If Live Aid had never happened, would Richard Branson have swum with Desmond Tutu while discussing world peace? Would Ted Turner have funded mosquito net initiatives, or Bill and Melinda Gates committed their wealth to provide vaccinations and contraceptives, or Jimmy Carter spent his post-presidency trying to eradicate tropical diseases in countries like Nigeria? Would George W. Bush have enacted PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), a massive government initiative to fight AIDS/HIV around the world? Would David Cameron have devoted unprecedented amounts of money to the UK’s foreign assistance budget? It’s also easy to question whether the African schools, water wells and AIDS-awareness campaigns of Oprah, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Will.i.am, Annie Lennox, and Alicia Keys would exist today if Live Aid hadn’t set the precedent for celebrity focus on the continent.”

“What really happened at the concert is that a new generation was born, a generation meant to be aware of what’s going on around us.” Elizabeth McLaughlin was 23 when she attended the London show

13th July 1985 – the day Rock & Roll changed the world

The point of the record had been to raise money but, more important, to raise issues and make a gesture.  After my trip to Africa, that issue had to be writ larger.” Bob Geldof, Is That It.  

Live Aid Artist Pass – from U2’s Website

Bob Geldof came back from Africa determined to do more.  He realized that while it was an incredible start, Band Aid’s £8 million was nothing in comparison to the scale of devastation he had witnessed in Africa. 

“The idea is we start at noon here, go on until 5 p.m.  Then we join with America on a live two-way satellite relay.  We have five hours of relay, back and forth every other act, and then at 10 p.m. we hand over to America and they run for five hours.  At the same time we broadcast constant appeal and give people phone numbers pledging donations with credit cards.”Bob Geldof pitching his idea to Harvey Goldsmith, Britain’s leading pop promoter at that time, Is that It.

Wembley Stadium Ticket

The result, a mere 5 months later, was Live Aid –the world’s first trans-Atlantic 17 hour long charity concert performed live in Philadelphia and London on July 13, 1985.

JFK Stadium Ticket

More than 75 of Rock and Roll’s biggest names including Elton John, Madonna, Santana, Run DMC, Sade, Sting, Bryan Adams, the Beach Boys, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Queen, Duran Duran, U2, the Who, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton performed – some at the Wembley Stadium in London, where a crowd of 70,000 turned out, others at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium, where a crowd of 100,000 watched.

Thirteen satellites beamed a live television broadcast of the event to more than one billion viewers in 110 countries. More than 40 of these nations held telethons for African famine relief during the broadcast, with live pleas from world leaders like Bishop Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King, Jihan Sadat and Rajiv Gandhi.

Phil Collins’ performed in Wembley, took the Concorde to Philadelphia where he performed later the same day.

“By midmorning the American Telephone and Telegraph Company reported that a toll-free telephone line set up to receive pledges was overloaded. The lines remained jammed for much of the day. The 1,126 circuits, staffed by 900 volunteers got more traffic than they could handle.” Jim Byrnes, A.T.&T spokesperson.

(Images c0urtesy YouTube & U2’s website).

Live Aid – A Successful Fundraiser

“Ask anyone over the age of about 40 about that sultry summer’s day and they will doubtless remember the Wembley concert’s defining moments: Queen, David Bowie and U2, Bob Geldof’s impassioned plea for people to donate more money, and the presence of our own fairytale princess, Diana. ”Sheena Grant, East Anglican Times July, 12, 2015.

Organized in just 10 weeks the Live Aid concert resulted in the greatest outpouring of collective compassion for a faraway people the world had seen. The concert raised over $127 million and saved thousands of lives – 100% of the contributed funds went to famine relief. 

Impact on Africa – There is no denying that Live Aid did a phenomenal job in raising awareness of the conditions in Ethiopia, and raised funds that helped meet a desperate need at the time. The fund raising was so successful that at one point the phone center in the US crashed when 700,000 calls came in at the same time. Additionally, the phenomenal success of Live Aid encouraged many Western nations to send surplus food supply to Ethiopia.  In the US, Live Aid’s legacy moved Congress to pass PL 99-66 which declared July 13, 1985, Live Aid Day.  In the UK, Margaret Thatcher agreed to put famine relief on the G7 agenda.

Geldof in Africa: The Road to Live Aid

I returned to England, my mind reeling with visions of intolerable destruction, political ineptitude and mass death.  As I landed I felt I understood the impulse which sometimes prompted people to kiss the ground. It was good to be home, but I now knew that we had not yet done enough. Bob Geldof

Band Aid was a huge success, £5 million were generated from sales just on Christmas Eve 1984.  The money was turned over to representatives from several accounting firms for distribution.  Little did Bob Geldof realize that trouble had just begun – the purchase of grain and food and its transportation was bogged down in a maze of red tape.

And so after the staggering success of Band Aid, Bob Geldof had to address the issue of distributing the funds.  He was not keen to involve any charitable organizations as they would keep a portion of the money to cover their overheads.  He had given his word that every penny donated would go to Africa for the famine victims.  After some amount of hesitation – because he had no money of his own and he did not want the trip to be perceived as a self-promotion tour – he decided to go to sub-Saharan Africa to appraise the situation himself.  His ticket was paid for by the Daily Star newspaper that wanted to get exclusive rights to his story but relented when he refused to give them exclusive rights.

Beb Geldof in Western Sudan, 1985.

He made trip after trip to Africa, never using any part of the funds for his expenses.  The conditions in Africa were heart breaking.  On one such trip he walked so much to reach the villages that his shoes fell apart and he completed the trip in carpet slippers.  In Africa he met numerous heads of states and dignitaries, but to this day the highlight of his life was meeting Mother Teresa in Africa.

Bob Geldof with Mother Teresa, 1985. Geldof considers meeting Mother Teresa the highlight of his life.

With his trips to Africa, Bob realized that the money generated by Band Aid would not be nearly enough, he knew he had to do so much more.  The answer came to him in the spring of 1985. 

Band Aid: Making, Impact & Legacy

We watched the 6 o’clock news.., the scenes were absolutely riveting and this from the get go did not look like television, it looked like Spartacus, something vast and it was gray, these grey waves moving in this grey moonscape.  And the camera was pitiless, it was like a cyclops, just there it would not let you off the hook. Bob Geldof.

Bob Geldof was among the millions that saw the BBC documentary on the evening of October 23, 1984.  He could not get the images out of his mind.  He knew he had to do something.  He woke the next morning, and had an idea of doing a song with other singers.  He wanted to record and release the song for the Christmas season. He called Midge Ure, a popular artist at that time, who agreed to work with him on the song. Within a week he wrote the lyrics to the song “Do they know its’ Christmas time?” and he and Midge Ure put the music together.

 Bob Geldof had access to a studio for one day and so the song was recorded by this group of 45 in a single day on November 25, 1984.  Every single person who worked on the song did so for free. 

With his feverish, almost manic, desire to do something and the looming Christmas deadline, Bob Geldof recruited the top British and Irish singers of the time, and created a mega-group from 45 of the biggest superstars of British music including George Michael, Sting, Phil Collins, Boy George, U2, Duran Duran, Culture Club to sing the song.  The superstars united under the name “Band-Aid’’ in a bold act of charity that was unprecedented at the time

The song was released on November 29, 1984 and was an incredible success right from the start – it sold 1 million copies in the first week and stayed number one on the charts for more than a month.  The song became the biggest-selling single in the UK and held that title for 13 years. 

The song provided immediate relief for Famine Victims. Bob Geldof had hoped to raise £72,000 – instead he raised £8 million ($11 million) to benefit famine victims of Ethiopia.  He started an organization called “Bad-Aid Trust” which was used to collect and disburse the funds.  Instead of using charitable organizations, he decided to use the Trust to disburse the money as he had pledged that every penny would help famine victims.  This took him to Africa where he realized he had just dipped his toe in the pool – he knew this would not be enough. 

The money raised from Band Aid helped buy, among other things, 150 tons of high-energy biscuits, 1335 tons of milk powder, 560 tons of cooking oil, 470 tons of sugar and 1000 tons of grain.

The song became the conscience of the rock and roll world. In the height of the 1980s, Band Aid reconnected rock stars with their consciences – forever linking celebrity to charity.  Bob Geldof had harnessed the power of celebrity singers and the consumer – and brought them together for the first time.

The enormous success of Band Aid and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” paved the way for using the powerful force of celebrities for charitable causes. It inspired USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” for famine relief which was released on March 3, 1985, and went on to sell 20 million copies and raised $75 million.  Others records inspired by Band Aid for famine relief included Austria for Africa, Chanteurs Sans Frontieres, among others.  Additionally records such as Steven Van Zandt’s “Sun City” in protest of South African apartheid; and a Dionne Warwick remake of the Burt Bacharach ballad, “That’s What Friends Are For,” for Aids research were inspired by the siccess of Band Aid.

Band Aid forever connected celebrities with philanthropy.

The success changed Bob Geldof’s life, it made history.  In the middle of Thatcherism, Band Aid came along and made people aware.  It also made charities incredibly cool.  Young people were getting more and more involved in charitable causes. Something had changed. Midge Ure.

This is the way I feel I pay for my citizenship – by using my fame whenever I can to transmit an idea.” Sting.

Bono, the lead singer of U2 and one the world’s biggest philanthropists credits his philanthropic roots to Band Aid. 

George Michael gave the entire profits from his single “Last Christmas” to Band Aid. 

Do They Know It’s Christmas Time? BBC Report

Every year at around this time, the radio stations start to play Christmas music.  This also gives me an excuse to listen to “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?” one of my favorite songs – it’s one of my favorite songs, not just a favorite Christmas song. Last year as an 8th grader, for a National History Day project, I had written about the Irish singer Bob Geldof, and the work he did in the 1980s for famine relief in Africa. Writing about Geldof, discovering the 80s music, the involvement of the music industry in charity, the famine in Africa, the BBC reporting of the famine, Band Aid, Live Aid, and their legacy  – I learnt more from this project than I ever expected to.  As I was hearing the song, I decided to write about it some more as I really enjoyed that project. 

The BBC Documentary: A Watershed Moment for News Reporting

“Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the plains outside Korem, it lights up a biblical famine – now, in the 20th Century.” Michael Burke, BBC Correspondent, Korem, Ethiopia, 1984

The Ethiopian famine came to international attention when BBC correspondent Michael Buerk started reporting on the extent of this disaster.  On October 23, 1984, during the evening news BBC aired his report. According to The Guardian, Michael Buerk’s broadcast of a “biblical famine,” was filmed in a remote part of northern Ethiopia. The images shot by Kenyan cameraman Mohammed Amin, together with Buerk’s powerful words, produced one of the most famous television reports of the late 20th century. Though there were news reports prior to this, the haunting images from the documentary triggered an avalanche of support from all who viewed it.

Mohamed Amin & Michael Buerk. Korem, Ethiopia, 1984

The New York Times said of this report, “The plight of starving Africans had been recounted previously in newspapers and on television but it was not until a film report by a British journalist appeared on NBC late last month that governments and individuals were galvanized to help” (NY Times, Nov 22, 1984).

The report shook the world from its stupor.  Suzanne Frank of The Guardian wrote, “Long before satellite, social media and YouTube, the BBC news item from Ethiopia went viral – transmitted by 425 television stations worldwide. It was even broadcast on a major US news channel, without revoicing Buerk’s original English commentary – something that was almost unheard of. Bob Geldof viewed the news that day.”

Michael Buerk’s BBC Report on Ethiopia that shook the world from its stupor.

“We watched the 6 o’clock news.., the scenes were absolutely riveting and this from the get go did not look like television, it looked like Spartacus, something vast and it was gray, these grey waves moving in this grey moonscape.  And the camera was pitiless, it was like a cyclops, just there it would not let you off the hook” (Bob Geldof)

It was this incredible report by Michael Buerk, and its serendipitous watching on the BBC evening news by an Irish rock band Boomtown Rats group member that led to Band Aid and Live Aid. Its legacy is massive, not only for the aid it generated at that time but for the line it drew connecting rock music and charity that lasts to this day.