July 13, 2010
Twenty-five years ago today, on July 13, 1985, more than 170,000 music fans descended on Wembley Stadium in the UK, and the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, PA., to experience Live Aid – a 16 hour-long, multi-venue concert, organized to raise money for relief of the 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia.
The brain-child of musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, Live Aid was conceived as a follow-on project to the successful charity single of the previous year – ”Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which was performed by a group of British and Irish music acts, collectively billed as Band Aid. The song went straight to the No.1 spot of the UK Singles Chart and stayed there for five weeks, ultimately selling more than 3 million copies. To this date, it is the second best selling single of all time.
The UK concert of Live Aid featured monumental performances from Queen, U2, Elvis Costello and The Who while the audience in Philadelphia were treated to appearances from Bob Dylan, Madonna, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
The sister concerts were shown live in 110 countries to an estimated 2 billion viewers. Using 13 satellites and 22 transponders, it was the most ambitious international satellite television venture that had ever been attempted and it remains one of the largest television broadcasts of all time. Hal Uplinger was the producer for the television broadcast in the United States and was responsible for the international satellite transmission and distribution around the world. In 1989, he was awarded a Smithsonian Computerworld Award in the Media, Arts and Entertainment category for his role in Live Aid. During an interview with Smithsonian Oral Histories in 1993, Uplinger explained how he initially got involved in the groundbreaking broadcast:
When Los Angeles received the games in 1984 I met a man named Mike Mitchell. Mike was the number three man on the games behind Peter Ueberroth and Harry Uscher. He was really the financial person in charge. I got to know and like Mike and we became friends. … Mitchell, through his business contact, met Bob Geldof in New York. Geldof told Mitchell that he wanted to do sister concerts, a worldwide television show to raise a lot of money. Mike then called me from New York and and asked if I could meet him at his house the next morning. At the meeting, Mitchell said “Here’s what he wants to do and your job will be to produce the American portion. BBC will produce Wembley, and they will own the English rights, but you have to distribute the broadcast to the whole world”. And I thought “That’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever heard of, of course that’s wonderful”. That day was May 1, 1985. Then Mike said he wants to do this on July 13, which was ten weeks exactly from that day. I said “That’s terrific, let’s go get it, let’s do it.” And, that’s how it all came about. I’ll never forget the day I met Bob Geldof. I didn’t know who Bob Geldof was, My son knew, but I didn’t.
Even 25 years later, money is still being raised to aid famine relief throughout Africa, all thanks to Bob Geldof’s initial idea. In November 2004, an official four-disc DVD of the Live Aid concerts was released. On July 2, 2005, a series of music events, entitled Live 8, were held in London, Edinburgh, Cornwall, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Philadelphia, Barrie, Moscow, Chiba and Johannesburg – to coincide with the G8 summit of that year and the 25th anniversary of the original concerts. And in 1989 and 2004, the charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was re-recorded by popular artists of the time and released, reaching the No.1 spot both times.
More than £150 million ($283.6 million) has been donated as a direct result of the landmark event, far exceeding the initial target of £1 million.
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