MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Music plays a crucial role in society. It is a trait we use to identify ourselves, find like-minded people and share our thoughts. For many musicians, it is a way to spread awareness on important issues that matter to them. Through benefit concerts, a musical event held to raise awareness and funds for a particular issue, artists throughout history utilized this tool to aid in creating positive global change.
Here are five benefit concerts that had the biggest impact on global poverty.
Concert for Bangladesh (1971)
Countries around the world during the 70s were facing serious changes in domestic politics and culture. For Pakistan, it was an internal crisis that changed their country forever. Due to the crisis, a third war between India and Pakistan broke out resulting in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, seceding from the country and gaining independence. This secession, however, led to thousands being displaced or seeking refuge from other nations.
To aid those affected by the war, star sitar musician, Ravi Shankar, and former Beatles member, George Harrison, partnered together to plan the first-ever rock benefit concert. Alongside other musicians such as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and another former Beatles member, Ringo Starr. Together, they performed two shows to raise $250,000 for United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in order to help refugees. Following the concert, sales for the live album raised even more money, summing up the final total of funds to be $12 million. Concert for Bangladesh established the foundation for future benefit concerts to follow.
Live Aid (1985)
Led by Irish singer-songwriter, Bob Geldof, Live Aid was started as part of his campaign to raise funds and awareness to the famine in Ethiopia that left several hundred thousand displaced and millions dead. Prior to the concert, Geldof began his awareness campaign with his single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which was released a year prior. Live Aid was a two-day event at Wembley Stadium in London and the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. It was the first concert to be televised to over two billion people.
Raising $38 million for organizations providing hunger relief in Africa as well as pushing for Western nations to end the immediate hunger crisis by supplying grains, this benefit concert was one of the most successful of its kind.
Tibetan Freedom Concert (1996)
In 1993, Adam Yauch, a member of the hip-hop group Beastie Boys, traveled to Nepal where he studied Buddhism and learned about the ongoing, silent fight for Tibetan freedom. Keeping in touch with Erin Potts, an activist he met on his trip, Yauch stayed informed about the continuing crisis. From there, the Tibetan Freedom Concert started and continued up to 2012. Throughout the years, performers such as U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead and the Foo Fighters joined the fight. Unlike other benefit concerts, the Tibetan Freedom Concert was more focused on raising awareness. Activists and experts were brought in to speak about the issue and educate the audiences.
Net Aid (1999)
Partnered with the United Nations, Celine Dion and U2’s Bono led this event that spanned three stadiums. It was the first benefit concert to garner the power of the early internet. People across the world could tune in via the Net Aid website where all can interact with the website through interactive chat rooms, short documentaries on anti-poverty groups and join relief organizations to learn more about global poverty. It was the biggest webcast of its time. All proceeds from the event went to helping refugees of Kosovo and Africa with the goal of ending world poverty.
Live 8 (2005)
Following Live Aid twenty years later, Live 8 continued the work of the previous benefit concert. Comprising eleven concerts across Europe, and broadcasted over thousands of television networks and radio stations, Live 8 was the biggest benefit concert in history. It raised funds for organizations such as Make Poverty History as well as Global Call to Action Against Poverty and brought awareness to issues of AIDs, poverty, hunger and oppression in Africa. The concert also pushed for the G8 summit to increase aid for Africa up to $50 million by 2010. Through a lottery implemented through a paid text message system, tickets for the concerts could be won the day of, which raised over 3 million euros.
Concerts for a Better World
Benefit concerts show the power and influence musicians and celebrities have in changing the world for the better. By using their platform in a positive way, awareness of important topics such as global poverty and hunger can be brought to light. Benefit concerts are not dead either. Many continue to take place today. For instance, Global Citizen’s Power the Planet is an annual live and broadcast event to raise awareness on both climate change and global poverty. Events such as these highlight the power of the collective — how, together, a greater impact for those in need can be made.
– Kenzie Nguyen