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!!

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.