Forbes: Music, Tax & The Prime Minister: How Live Aid Changed The UK And The World

Music, Tax & The Prime Minister: How Live Aid Changed The UK And The World
By Kelly Phillips Erb
July 13, 2016


I was just a kid when Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid on July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London. Only Live Aid didn’t just play in London. It also played just up the road from me ”“ simultaneously ”“ in John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Live Aid was a “super concert,” 16 hours of rock music in two venues linked by satellite so that folks at home could watch, too. More than a billion viewers in 110 nations were said to have viewed the concert which raised more than $125 million in famine relief for Africa. People were starving not only in Ethiopia, almost one million people died between 1984 and 1985, but also neighboring Sudan.

Bob Geldof (now Sir Bob Geldof), of The Boomtown Rats, dreamed up the idea after traveling to Ethiopia. When he returned in 1984, he founded the Band Aid, a “super group” made up of such performers as U2”²s Bono, Phil Collins, Boy George, Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon, George Michael, Sting and Jody Watley. The singer that came from that first ensemble, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (admit it, it’s in your head now) became a hit, selling over two million copies and raising millions for charity.

But it wasn’t always easy. After Geldof had promised that every penny would go to the famine relief, he received pushback from the British Government, who refused to waive the VAT (Value added tax, similar to our sales taxes) on sales of the single. The amount of tax the UK government was thought to collect from sales of the single landed around half a million pounds while the Irish government received nothing, having waived the tax. Geldof made a public stance against then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who eventually switched gears and ordered the revenue raised by the tax donated to the charity. Later, the Prime Minister and Geldof became friends ”“ even sharing a whiskey and a chat at No. 10. Thatcher not only refunded the VAT but agreed to put famine relief on the G7 agenda, saying:

The success of BandAid inspired USA For Africa, a similar movement in the United States. The song “We Are The World” was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones. The single, featuring solos by such luminaries as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper, was released on March 7, 1985, and went on to sell more than 10 million copies.

Just a few months later, Live Aid became a reality. Performers in London included Elvis Costello, Dire Straits, Elton John (now Sir) and Paul McCartney (also now Sir). Performers in Philadelphia included Run DMC, Rick Springfield, Santana, The Cars, Patti LaBelle, Mick Jagger ”“ and, of course, a hometown favorite, the Hooters (a move that Geldof was reportedly not on board with).

There were some iconic moments. Who can forget a young Bette Midler introducing an even younger Madonna in Philadelphia? Or Jack Nicholson introducing U2 as a band “who never has a problem expressing how they feel.” Or Phil Collins playing in London before jumping on Concorde to play drums in Philadelphia that same day with Led Zeppelin? Or Queen clearly making a statement that they weren’t done yet.

And this happened without the internet. Without email. Without cell phones. “Live streaming” was done by satellite ”“ to televisions.

But it worked.

Live Aid raised more than $100 million ostensibly for famine relief (SPIN disputes that the funds were used for charity). What is indisputable is that it contributed to an awareness of global poverty ”“ forcing world leaders to address the issues in a public way.

(Keep in mind that only donations to qualified charitable organizations count for purposes of a US federal income tax deduction and that means those recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Donations to foreign charitable organizations do not typically result in a tax deduction for US purposes unless you direct your donation to a US branch of an international organization such as the American Red Cross. For more tips on making your donations count, click here.)

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