When the music stops: the legacy of charity benefit concerts

From the Concert for Bangladesh to One Love Manchester, benefit concerts, albums and singles have repeatedly shown the power of celebrity philanthropy. But some have also struggled with truly fulfilling goals of aid and relief.

What happens when the stars go home?

Ariana Grande, second from left, performs alongside fellow musicians during her recent One Love Manchester benefit concert, including (from left) will.i.am, Taboo, Katy Perry, Niall Horan, Miley Cyrus and Imogen Heap. (Dave Hogan/One Love Manchester/Getty Images)

Ariana Grande is back on tour, but her One Love Manchester benefit concert will likely leave a lasting memory about the power of philanthropy on the young pop star.

"Everybody wants a way to be able to help when [a tragedy] happens...but a lot of times performers and people don't know how to make that happen," said Van Dean, whose label Broadway Records regularly participates in charity benefit projects. 

"In the arts world, there is already an affinity towards community," Dean told CBC News, "so I think the idea of getting together to do something for the greater good is very much ingrained in everyone."

But any philanthropic project must have clear goals, he noted, whether it's simply to uplift those affected by tragedy or to raise accessible funds in a timely manner — like how streaming profits from What the World Needs Now Is Love (which raised $100,000 US, plus more than $55,000 after a related benefit show) quickly got to the LGBT Center of Central Florida following the Pulse nightclub shooting one year ago. 

Another imperative: after the stars go home, campaigns should follow-up with donors and be transparent about exactly where the money went.

"In the case of charitable endeavours, you want to know that it's doing good," Dean said, noting that the Orlando LGBT Center shared stories with him and his team about how the donations specifically helped shooting victims and family members.

"When you know the results of what you're doing, you're more inclined to do it again if there's another situation that calls for it."

Here's a look back at a few notable charity benefits — and their legacies. 

Concert for Bangladesh

Ex-Beatle George Harrison and Ravi Shankar's Concert for Bangladesh is widely acknowledged as the original benefit show, with the dual New York concerts staged in 1971 to support refugees of what would become Bangladesh (a group also hard hit by the Bhola cyclone). The event would serve as an inspiring template for countless others.

Performers: George Harrison, Ravi Shankhar, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr and more.

Charity: UNICEF 

Tally: The pair of concerts raised close to $250,000 US, but the subsequent album and video recordings of the show eventually boosted the donation to approximately $12 million US.

Of note: Aside from inspiring myriad musicians toward philanthropy, Concert for Bangladesh also suffered what's become a perennial issue for such benefits — getting the money where it's needed in a timely way. Because the charity, UNICEF, wasn't chosen right from the start, the event proceeds were tied up in a lengthy battle with the Internal Revenue Service.

Live Aid

Inspired by Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh as well as the U.K.'s Secret Policeman's Ball, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure turned 1984's Do They Know It's Christmas (a fundraiser for Ethiopian famine relief) into the blockbuster Live Aid concert a year later. The show (held simultaneously in London and Philadelphia) was joined by standalone American and Canadian famine-relief benefit tracks (We Are the World and Tears Are Not Enough, respectively) and would eventually spawn a new wave of benefits, including Live 8 and Live Earth.

Performers: Queen, David Bowie, Sting, U2, Sade, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Madonna, Bryan Adams, Run D.M.C., Bob Dylan and more.

Charity: Live Aid/Band Aid Charitable Trust

TallyApproximately £150 million raised

Of note: Seen by a purported 1.9 billion worldwide, Live Aid left a major imprint on the global consciousness about the power of celebrity to raise awareness of a social cause as well as a whopping sum of money in a short time. However, it's also been plagued by questions about where the money actually went as well as lingering resentment about a condescending attitude towards Africa.

2005, a year of benefits 

2005 was surprising year for benefit concerts and telethons. A confluence of events — two devastating natural disasters (the late 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina) as well as the 20th anniversary of Live Aid (marked by the global Live 8 event) — ultimately sparked high-profile concerts that punctuated the calendar. 

Performers: Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Tom Cochrane and Rush (for tsunami relief); U2, Pink Floyd, Youssou N'Dour, Annie Lennox and Paul McCartney (for Live 8); Harry Connick, Jr., Aaron Neville, Kanye West, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw (for Katrina relief) and more.

Charity: Various, including World Vision, Red Cross, UNICEF, Oxfam, Save the Children (tsunami relief); the Prince's Trust (Live 8); the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and Salvation Army (Katrina).

Tally: Approximately $18 million US and $7 million Cdn for tsunami relief; about £1.6 million for Live 8 (concert tickets were free; the goal was calling on G8 nations to adopt debt relief for Africa); and $70 million US (for Katrina relief).

Of noteThe Indian Ocean tsunami sparked an unprecedented, global response from the public, setting a new record for the generous and immediate funding of an international humanitarian effort and ultimately giving valuable lessons on the strengths and weaknesses of how such funding is most effectively applied. Separately, Rapper Kanye West's jaw-dropping declaration "George Bush doesn't care about black people" at one of the Katrina telethons ignited fiery debate about race and disenfranchised American communities.

Hope for Haiti Now/Canada for Haiti/Young Artists for Haiti 

The 2010 earthquake that struck near Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince was catastrophic. Appeals for aid were rapidly answered by stars and the general public, including through charity concert-telethons like Hope for Haiti Now in the U.S., the Canada for Haiti telethon and the Young Artists for Haiti benefit revamp of K'naan's smash track Wavin' Flag.

Performers: Wyclef Jean, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, K'naan, Nelly Furtado, The Tragically Hip and more.​

Charity: Various, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, Oxfam, UN World Food Programme, Plan Canada and World Vision.​

Tally: The American telethon raised more than $61 million US. The Haiti remix of Wavin' Flag raised more than $1 million Cdn, while various Canadian telethons raised more than $20 million Cdn in donations, which then-prime minister Stephen Harper said would be matched by the federal government.

Of note: The world reportedly pledged upwards of $9 billion US to Haitian relief efforts, but one story quickly tarnished the tale: the mishandling of millions and allegations of financial impropriety by Haiti-born musician Wyclef Jean's charity Yéle Haiti. It ultimately proved a warning flag about what's emerged overall as many well-intentioned, poorly thought out, obscurely documented and ultimately short-term solutions that did little to help actual recovery and reconstruction

One Love Manchester

Ariana Grande returned to a Manchester stage, just two weeks after a shocking bomb attack outside her May 22 show, and presided over an upbeat and emotional tribute to the bomb victims as well as the resilient spirit of Brits — especially meaningful after another terrorist incident hit London on the eve of the benefit.

Performers: Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Pharrell Williams, Coldplay, Black Eyed Peas, Niall Horan, Marcus Mumford, Liam Gallagher and more.

Charity: One Love Manchester Emergency Fund, created by Manchester City Council and the British Red Cross to support victims and their families, "help alleviate suffering and ensure [they] do not face short-term financial difficulties."

Tally: £10 million ($17.4 million Cdn) after the concert, but a further boost is expected after last week's streaming release of the concert's live performances.

Of noteAfter learning Manchester citizens had adopted Don't Look Back in Anger as their anthem after the attack, Ex-Oasis bandleader and songwriter Noel Gallagher is donating royalties from new sales of the '90s rock classic to the fund.


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