Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine Relief Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The biggest concert event in history, Live Aid reached close to two billion television viewers in 150 countries and raised more than $72 million for African famine victims.

Summary of Event

Live Aid consisted of two sixteen-hour music benefit concerts held simultaneously in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at John F. Kennedy Stadium, and in London, England, at Wembley Stadium, on July 13, 1985. More than sixty acts participated, including many of the biggest names in popular music. Long-established stars such as Eric Clapton, Clapton, Eric Bob Dylan, Dylan, Bob Joan Baez, Baez, Joan Mick Jagger, Jagger, Mick Keith Richards, Richards, Keith Elton John, John, Elton Paul McCartney, McCartney, Paul and Tina Turner Turner, Tina as well as acts such as Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin the Who, Who, the (musical group) and Crosby, Stills, and Nash Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed alongside a number of newer stars and successful bands, including Madonna, Madonna U2, U2 (musical group)[U two (musical group)] Sting, Sting (musician) and Run-D.M.C. Run-D.M.C.[Run D.M.C.] All the artists performed without pay to help raise money for famine-stricken Ethiopians, victims of years of war, drought, and displacement. Music;rock Live Aid Fund-raising events[Fund raising events] Rock and roll;concerts [kw]Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine Relief (July 13, 1985) [kw]Millions for Famine Relief, Live Aid Generates (July 13, 1985) [kw]Famine Relief, Live Aid Generates Millions for (July 13, 1985) [kw]Relief, Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine (July 13, 1985) Music;rock Live Aid Fund-raising events[Fund raising events] Rock and roll;concerts [g]North America;July 13, 1985: Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine Relief[05780] [g]United States;July 13, 1985: Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine Relief[05780] [g]United Kingdom;July 13, 1985: Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine Relief[05780] [g]England;July 13, 1985: Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine Relief[05780] [c]Music;July 13, 1985: Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine Relief[05780] [c]Humanitarianism and philanthropy;July 13, 1985: Live Aid Generates Millions for Famine Relief[05780] Geldof,Bob Graham, Bill Mitchell, Michael Goldsmith, Harvey Krishnan, Tatparanandam Ananda

The Live Aid concerts were the last in a series of events put on by the Band Aid Trust, Band Aid Trust a British organization of people in the music business dedicated to drawing attention to world hunger and raising money to combat starvation. Band Aid was the name of a group of pop and rock music stars who in 1984 recorded the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to raise money to help relieve the starvation and suffering occurring in Ethiopia. The group included stars Bono of U2, Simon Le Bon, George Michael, Phil Collins, Sting, and Boy George, among others. The project was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, musician and leader of the Irish rock band the Boomtown Rats. Distressed by television images of malnourished Ethiopians, Geldof decided to undertake a large-scale project to help them.

The concept of many big names joining forces for one recording to heighten social awareness and to raise money for famine relief was irresistible to the news media. The well-promoted song, written by Geldof and Midge Ure Ure, Midge of the band Ultravox, was a number one hit in England and sold one and one-half million copies in the United States. All profits went to the Band Aid Trust and were donated to Ethiopian relief efforts. Geldof himself became a popular focus of news items, and he was dubbed “St. Bob” by a slightly skeptical press.

Band Aid’s success encouraged a number of American musicians to organize USA for Africa (United Support of Artists for Africa) USA for Africa and to record the benefit single “We Are the World,” "We Are the World" (Jackson and Richie)[We Are the World] produced by Quincy Jones Jones, Quincy and written by pop music megastars Michael Jackson Jackson, Michael and Lionel Richie, Richie, Lionel in December, 1984. Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Simon, Paul (musician) Dionne Warwick, Warwick, Dionne Ray Charles, Charles, Ray Smokey Robinson, Robinson, Smokey Diana Ross, Ross, Diana and Bruce Springsteen Springsteen, Bruce were among the performers who sang on the record. Having attended this second recording session and seen the worldwide success of another benefit single, Geldof was encouraged. He took on the formidable responsibility of organizing the Live Aid concerts, which he hoped would further spotlight the problem of poverty and hunger in Africa and elsewhere.

At about the same time, a Malaysian oil baron named Tatparanandam Ananda Krishnan read about Geldof and decided that the musician’s efforts deserved the support of what Krishnan called his “social venture capital.” A wealthy and altruistic Harvard University graduate, Krishnan believed that charity money should be invested in big projects capable of generating large amounts of money to help the world’s underprivileged. Earlier that year, Krishnan had formed Worldwide Sports and Entertainment, Worldwide Sports and Entertainment a company intended to organize events on the same huge scale as Live Aid. He introduced Geldof to Michael Mitchell, who had helped to plan the spectacular 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Mitchell became responsible for marketing the concerts and coordinating the global television broadcast. Krishnan then provided Geldof with $1.75 million in cash and credit. His donation got the massive concert rolling, according to Harvey Goldsmith, England’s top music promoter and a coproducer of Live Aid.

For weeks, Geldof worked nonstop, contacting artists and their agents, giving interviews, and organizing the technical, financial, and marketing machinery needed to make the concerts a success. Most of the money would be raised through televised requests for call-in pledges; the planners adopted the video fund-raising method that entertainer Jerry Lewis had used for years in his telethons to raise money to combat muscular dystrophy.

From left: George Michael of Wham!, concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith, Bono of U2, Paul McCartney, concert organizer Bob Geldof, and Freddie Mercury of Queen in the finale of the Live Aid concert held at Wembley Stadium in London on July 13, 1985.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The promoters for Live Aid at first presented the event as a 1980’s version of the legendary Woodstock Woodstock Music and Art Fair (1969) concert of 1969. As a media event, however, Live Aid became much bigger than Woodstock; it became both the biggest concert and the largest television broadcast made up to that time. Fourteen satellites were used to broadcast the concerts live to ninety-six countries; another sixty-five countries were provided with a televised four-hour taped version.

The twin concerts were at first expected to raise $10 million and reach an audience of one billion. The producers afterward estimated that from one and one-half billion to two billion people around the world watched the shows on television. Eventually, Live Aid raised more than $72 million for famine relief; mounting the concerts cost about $5 million.

Geldof had visited Ethiopia after the success of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and he was aware that distributing the funds generated by the project required careful planning. He was most interested in creating long-term improvements in Ethiopia’s agricultural system. Thus, although some of the money was used to purchase food and supplies to distribute directly to people in need, the Band Aid Trust donated most of the money to purchase trucks for transporting food and to support development projects: building bridges, installing irrigation systems, and drilling wells. A few days after Live Aid aired, high-level officials in England, Ireland, and Norway nominated Bob Geldof for the Nobel Peace Prize.


Live Aid marked the first time that an event of such a scale incorporated television broadcasting and coverage as part of its basic planning. The global broadcast was crucial to accomplishing Live Aid’s mission; television was actually a component of the event rather than simply a means of sharing or reporting it.





Although the global broadcast was completed with relatively few hitches for so complex an undertaking, American television coverage of the Live Aid concerts was widely criticized. The cable channel Music Television (MTV) MTV;Live Aid took the most criticism. Its “veejays” were panned by The New York Times for their apparent ignorance of rock music’s history; Variety described them as “more intent on showing themselves than the performers.” Nevertheless, MTV was praised for its decision to cover the full sixteen hours of the concerts.

A total of 105 independent stations aired a syndicated eleven-hour version of the event, and the American Broadcasting Company American Broadcasting Company;Live Aid (ABC) broadcast a three-hour prime-time special hosted by Dick Clark. These broadcasts, however, shared MTV’s problems of bland hosts and video miscues. For example, ABC aired only a portion of the reunited group Led Zeppelin’s performance of its classic hit “Stairway to Heaven,” even though that was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the day.

American viewers of the concerts were also overwhelmed by a steady barrage of commercials. Legendary music promoter Bill Graham, who coproduced the Philadelphia concert, declared that he was appalled by what he saw on television. “The people at home were raped by television,” he remarked. Moreover, the rock world was dismayed that the concerts and fund drive were not given serious news coverage. Rolling Stone Rolling Stone (magazine) magazine marveled that the show could have received so little responsible coverage even though it was the largest television broadcast in history and was designed to raise millions of dollars for famine relief in Africa.

The Live Aid benefits marked what many considered a movement back toward a belief in music as an agent for social change, a belief that had seemed to wane since the early 1970’s. Social concerns and causes were suddenly important again to musicians and audiences. Many felt that such 1970’s trends as disco music and glamour rock had been frivolous, even empty, compared with the emotionally and politically daring songs of the 1960’s and early 1970’s that had decried the Vietnam War, demanded civil rights, and explored social changes of every kind.

The success of the Live Aid concerts may have shown that some fundamental reevaluation was taking place in popular music in the 1980’s, just as it had in the early 1960’s. Music critics have suggested that the 1980’s revival of conscience in popular music is reflected in the lyrics of such socially committed performers as Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, and Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Their hits in the mid-1980’s displayed their musical talent as well as their ability to study and respond to social problems. Live Aid certainly seemed in 1985 to herald a change of tone in the popular music world.

As a result of the Live Aid concerts, similar events blossomed to raise money for other stricken groups. Bob Dylan’s comments during his Live Aid performance on the plight of the American farmer resulted in Farm Aid, Farm Aid benefit concert a fourteen-hour concert on September 22, 1985, that raised ten million dollars. Farm Aid became an annual event. An antiapartheid album, Sun City, was released in 1985 under the direction of Little Steven Van Zandt, who had become famous as a guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Audiences, however, seemed less inclined to be moved by a human rights issue such as apartheid than by the stark and horrifying film images of Ethiopian children wracked with starvation; the single “Sun City” barely made a mark on the pop music sales charts.

On the other hand, further proof of popular music’s renewed social conscience and a more successful politically oriented project came with a series of tours and concerts staged by the human rights organization Amnesty International. Amnesty International;benefit concerts The 1986 Conspiracy of Hope Tour of the United States and the worldwide Human Rights Now! tour of 1988 helped to boost the membership of Amnesty International from 200,000 in 1986 to more than 420,000 members worldwide in 1988. Amnesty International attracted high-caliber stars for its benefits: U2, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman, and Bruce Springsteen were among the tours’ headliners.

Singer and songwriter Sting called the Amnesty International tours “the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.” Both Sting and Jackson Browne, Browne, Jackson well known for his music’s political commitment, praised the Amnesty tours for teaching interested people how to get involved in the process of pressing for social change. Jack Healy, executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., pointed out that people got involved in Live Aid only long enough to call in a pledge. The Amnesty International benefit concerts, on the other hand, provided a structure that permitted interested concertgoers to join the organization. Still, Healy and others agreed that the Live Aid concerts marked a turning point in popular music in the mid-1980’s, making the subsequent benefits possible and encouraging artists whose work was fueled by social conscience.

Bob Geldof explained that he had learned growing up in the 1960’s, a heady period of radical change, that music was the driving force behind that change. Although many would disagree that popular music truly wields such power, during the Live Aid shows, music did manage to affect the way millions of people were thinking and influenced them to translate that thought into humanitarian action. Music;rock Live Aid Fund-raising events[Fund raising events] Rock and roll;concerts

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Breskin, David. “Bob Geldof.” Rolling Stone, December 5, 1985, 26-27, 30, 33-34, 60, 63-66. In-depth interview with Geldof five months after the Live Aid concerts. Geldof discusses the project, his motivations, his band, his frustrations, and what he learned and saw during recent trips to Africa.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coleman, Mark, and Rob Tannenbaum. “The Revival of Conscience.” Rolling Stone, November 15, 1990, 69-71, 76, 80. Reviews the concert benefits staged since Live Aid and offers comments from several singer-songwriters (including Sting and Jackson Browne) on the power of rock music to effect social change. Includes a brief interview with Bob Geldof.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Geldof, Bob. Is That It? New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986. Autobiography was written immediately after the Live Aid event; thus, even though the book begins conventionally with his boyhood, the momentum is really toward a full description of what it was like to organize the massive concert benefit. Includes index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goldberg, Michael. “The Day the World Rocked.” Rolling Stone, August 15, 1985, 22-26, 32-34. Presents an entertaining on-the-scene account of the Live Aid concerts, beginning with a brief history of Geldof’s charity efforts and how those behind the scenes put the shows together. Describes highlights of the shows and includes interviews with performers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Szatmary, David P. Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2006. History of rock music discusses the art form’s relationship to the American experience and to business, economics, and politics. Includes discussion of humanitarian efforts on the part of rock musicians. Features bibliography, discography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Westley, Frances. “Bob Geldof and Live Aid: The Affective Side of Global Social Innovation.” Human Relations 44 (October, 1991): 1011-1037. Discusses how Geldof used the strong affective power of music to create a bond between American youth and the starving people of Ethiopia. Examines how such visionary leadership is related to global social innovation.

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Categories: History