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Perhaps it started when Bob Geldof, first known for his punk band The Boomtown Rats, sang about a senseless act of violence in 1979 in his hit “I Don’t Like Mondays.”
The roots of his empathy ran deep. Geldof’s mother died when he was 6 years old, and he was bullied throughout his childhood. So while his music career was moving forward, Bob Geldof saw the unfairness in the world.
After performing at a charity concert for Amnesty International, he mobilized the music industry around the food crisis in Ethiopia. The 1984 effort created Band Aid, which brought together two dozen artists to record “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” It became the fastest seller of all time in the UK and sold nearly 12 million copies worldwide.
But it wasn’t enough. Economic realities in Africa created a food disparity that left most of the population starving. Geldof threw himself into the cause, using music as the solution. He formed Live Aid in 1985 and brought together the best-loved pop groups of the day for a live, 16-hour London concert broadcast on the BBC. Between numbers, Geldof delivered impassioned speeches calling for donations. He later said, “Mankind at its most desperate is often at its best.”
Geldof was desperate to create change. Live Aid raised over US $200 million. But there was still more to do. Geldof sought solutions that went beyond donations. He was appointed to the Commission for Africa by then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The commission dug deep into the root causes of poverty and drew up a detailed plan to reform trade rules, cancel debt and provide a continuation of aid. More concerts followed, and change began to take root.
Perhaps more important than the money raised is that a generation grew up knowing they could make a difference. From the street musicians to the live concerts in parks to the stadiums filled with fans, each is a nod to the work of Bob Geldof and the musicians he gathered for good. One song, one musician, one fan can, in Bob Geldof’s words “tilt the world a little bit in favor of the poor.”
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