The one thing that I most admire about celebrities is how they use their fame to benefit those in need. You’ll often hear about very large monetary donations that celebrities make to charities. You’ll see pictures of them out in the trenches helping with disaster relief. They film public service announcements and they visit sick children in the hospital. And, of course, famous musicians often produce music for charity.
Just a few days ago, a new charity album hit the circuit. “Heroes,” brings together 15 of the world’s most iconic musicians for War Child's fifth charity album. War Child is an international organization dedicated to assisting young victims of war around the world. For their latest charity project, War Child asked 15 classic musicians to select one of today’s hot new bands to cover a song from their books. Bob Dylan picked Beck to perform his “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” The Kinks picked the Kooks to perform “Victoria,” while Bruce Springsteen chose The Hold Steady to perform “Atlantic City.”
Needless to say, “Heroes” sure looks like this album will be a success and, hopefully, raise a lot of money to benefit War Child.
But, can you remember how the “music-for-charity” trend got started? I bet a lot of you will guess the hugely successful, international rock concert from 1985, “Live Aid.” If you did, you would be wrong.
Go back to 1965 and you’ll find the very first Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Though not solely a musical concert, the now famous telethon featured a bevy of the world’s most popular musicians performing their top hits.
Just a few years later in 1971, you’ll find George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, the first large benefit concert of its kind. Harrison pulled together hugely famous musicians, like Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, for a live concert in Madison Square Concert. He also released an accompanying album and a concert film, raising nearly $250,000 to benefit victims of the Bhola cyclone and the Bangladesh Liberation War.
A few years later, in 1979, “The Music for UNICEF Concert: A Gift of Song” was created by the Bee Gees and David Frost, and performed in the United Nations General Assembly. It was later telecast on NBC and an album was released featuring ABBA, the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, John Denver, and Earth, Wind & Fire. More than 7 million dollars was raised from just one song, “Too Much Heaven,” and the proceeds from the entire project went to combat child poverty.
And, of course, though not the first benefit concert in history, you cannot forget Bob Geldof’s huge international “Live Aid” concert in 1985 that raised nearly $70 million dollars for African relief. Just a year earlier, also produced by Geldof, the single track, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” written specifically about the African famine, raised $14 million to help feed the starving children of Africa. On the heels of Live Aid’s success, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp raised more than $7 million to support the American farmer with their Farm Aid concerts.
Today, the concept of celebrities getting together for charity is pretty common. I’m sure you’ll recall how many actors and musicians across the globe banded together to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in concerts and telethons following the 9/11 attacks and the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia. And celebrities came out in huge numbers to support the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
I hope they come out in large numbers again for this latest charity music project. It is nice to see celebrities band together to lend a much-needed hand. In many cases, the millions that celebrities are able to raise represent more funds than a charity organization could ever raise on its own.
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