Imagine that a third of the world’s population is watching a television program at the same time.

That’s what happened on July 13, 1985, when 1.9 billion people watched musicians perform in London and Philadelphia to raise money for famine-stricken Ethiopians.

Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Elton John, David Bowie, Queen, Tina Turner, Madonna, Sade, George Michael, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Howard Jones and more performed to sold-out crowds at Wembley Stadium and JFK as spectators across the planet. watched at home, thanks to television producers who created one of the first live international satellite connections.

Credit: Creative Commons

The Georgia Connection

The concert was organized by Bob Geldof, an Irish singer whose band, Boomtown Rats, had a hit with “I Don’t Like Mondays”, a 1979 song inspired by a promotional visit to WRAS 88.5 FM, the station of Georgia State University Atlanta’s student radio station with which Georgia Public Broadcasting today shares the airwaves.

The song that started it all

In 1984, Geldof was moved by another chance encounter – a BBC report on starving children in Ethiopia – and teamed up with Ultravox singer Midge Ure to write the charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas “.

This song, featuring a supergroup of British pop stars, is sometimes derided for its “white saviour” lyrics, including the line “Tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you”. But at the time, the gesture prompted producer Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to respond by writing the Billboard No. 1 “We Are the World” in early 1985.

Several artists from both recordings performed at the Live Aid concert in July.

Although Live Aid (and the single that preceded it) initially raised around $150 million for the Band Aid Trust, organizers were skeptical that the funds would reach people in need of relief. But the concert model was revived in 2005 as Live 8, an activist event that aimed to ask G8 leaders to step up government commitments to alleviate extreme poverty rather than let fans foot the bill.

37 years later, the music still resonates

Phil Collins taking the Concorde between stadiums to play ‘Against All Odds’ and drums with members of Led Zeppelin; Teddy Pendergrass joins Ashford and Simpson on “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”; Madonna singing “Holiday” while dancing in a brocade jacket; U2 became global stars after playing ‘Bad’ for nearly 12 minutes – all of them memorable.

The movie 2018 Bohemian Rhapsody recreated Queen’s unforgettable Live Aid performance ‘Radio Ga Ga’, in which vocalist Freddie Mercury launched what was probably the first and only synchronized rhythmic hand clap involving a global audience.

Geldof shared his memories of performing at NPR’s World Cafe in 2020.

In 2021, he and promoter Harvey Goldsmith celebrated one billion views for Live Aid’s YouTube channel, which hosts videos of the performances. The Live Aid playlist on Spotify features a timeline of 96 songs played on the day of the concert, and includes Patti LaBelle, Run-DMC, Judas Priest and others who weren’t on the original TV shows.

In 2022, where algorithm-driven music streaming platforms are shaping listeners’ tastes and creating siled listening habits, it’s unlikely the world will come together around such a gig all at once again.

But Live Aid today is the moment when music showed us the power of unity.

This story comes to Reporter Newspapers/Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.