An estimated 1 million people in Ethiopia died due to famine from 1983 – 1985. Civil war. Drought. Government policies.
In 1984, Bob Geldof “saw a BBC documentary about the famine in Ethiopia… and decided to write a song to help raise money for the starving citizens of the East African nation.”
Geldof would write “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (along with Midge Ure). He pulled together a “Band Aid” ensemble that included Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Sting and U2. Released on 03 December 1984, it raised more than $10 million for famine relief.
Geldof then turned his attention to creating Live Aid, a 16-hour, trans-continental concert (Britain and the United States) that reached about one-quarter of the world’s population.
At one point, according to a stage announcement, 95 percent of the world’s television sets were tuned in to Live Aid — an even more incredible statistic when you consider that it happened before the Internet, cell phones, e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging and blogging.
At one point, the phone center in the U.S. crashed when 700,000 pledge calls came in at the same time. By day’s end, more than $70 million had been raised.
And, as Kristi York Wooten wrote in 2015, “Africa’s symbolism to the world became an empty silhouette welded to the neck of a guitar.”
At Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid at 12:19 pm.
Performers included Black Sabbath, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Dire Straits, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Hall & Oates, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Neil Young, Phil Collins, Queen, Sting, Tina Turner and U2.
Dylan would reference the plight of American farmers (the mid-1980s was a major agricultural recession) while playing in Philadelphia. On 22 September 1985, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young launched the first the U.S. Farm Aid benefit concert.
A final reflection from Kristi York Wooten:
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?
If a song had the power to make 1980s music fans feel like they could help “feed the world,” it wasn’t because they perceived themselves as colonialists, but rather as activists, says Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who was 8 years old when Live Aid aired on the BBC in the summer of 1985. “I remember it,” Martin says. “It made my generation feel like caring for the world was part of the remit. Rock and roll doesn’t have to be detached from society.”