Thursday, 22 April 2010

Disaster benefit concerts

The 20 year old American R&B singer Chris Brown is to host a benefit concert for Haiti on May 15 at Richmond, Virginia. It is the latest in a series of disaster benefit concerts that follow the example pioneered by Bengali musician Ravi Shankar.

After what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was hit by the deadliest storm the world has ever seen (see my blog of June 1, 2009), Shankar asked his friend, the former Beatle George Harrison, to help, and they were able to recruit Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and many other big names to perform in New York in front of 40,000 people in August 1971.

Up to one million people had died in the cyclone, and the song George Harrison wrote about the disaster contained the monumental understatement “it sure looks like a mess.” Still, the concert raised a much needed £120,000.

Fourteen years later, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organised the most famous benefit concert of all – Live Aid – with events in London, Philadelphia and many other places. It was broadcast across the world and was reckoned to have raised about £150 million for famine relief in Ethiopia. This great hunger was also estimated to have cost perhaps a million lives.

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