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9 top-grossing benefit concerts

These shows have generated more than $450 million for charity

Dec. 12, 2012

When tragedy has struck in recent years, it's become almost mandatory: musicians and celebrities step out to centre stage to perform in a charity concert. The frequency has made it easy to view these shows with a cynical eye.

But the reality is that star power has raised millions for the victims of tragedy around the world, from New York City to rural Sri Lanka. Here are some of the highest-grossing charity gigs of all time.
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[Courtesy YouTube]

Live Aid (Ethiopian famine)

July 13, 1985 | London, Philadelphia

$245 million

Organizers: Bob Geldof and Midge Ure

Broadcast from Wembley Stadium in London, JFK Stadium in Philadelphia

Audience: 2 billion people in 60 countries watched it on television.

The single Do They Know It's Christmas? was earlier released in support of the relief effort.

Performers included: Queen, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Sting, U2, The Who, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan.

Notable trivia: Viewers largely agreed Queen stole the show with their 20-minute set. "Queen smoked ’em," Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters said in the book 40 Years of Queen. "They just took everybody. They walked away being the greatest band you’d ever seen in your life, and it was unbelievable. And that’s what made the band so great; that’s why they should be recognised as one of the greatest rock bands of all time because they could connect with an audience."

Molly Sims, Ricky Martin and Justin Timberlake pose at the Hope For Haiti Now: A Global Benefit For Earthquake Relief telethon on Jan. 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/MTV Hope for Haiti Now/Getty Images)

Hope for Haiti Now

Jan. 22, 2010 | New York City, Los Angeles, London

$61 million

The money raised went to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, the UN World Food Program, Oxfam America, the Red Cross, UNICEF and the Yele Haiti Foundation.

Organizers: George Clooney, Wyclef Jean, Joel Gallen

Performances were augmented by reports from Anderson Cooper in Haiti.

Performers included: Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, Bono, Jay-Z and Rihanna. Appearances also made by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Ben Stiller, Brad Pitt, Muhammed Ali, Jon Stewart and Meryl Streep.

Notable trivia: The Hope for Haiti Now album became the biggest one-day album pre-order in iTunes history.

Concert for Hurricane Relief (Hurricane Katrina)

Sept. 2, 2005 | New York City

$40 million

The money raised went to the American Red Cross.

The concert was seen by 8.5 million viewers and was organized by NBC.

Performers included: Harry Connick Jr., Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Aaron Neville. Appearances made by: John Goodman, Glenn Close, Claire Danes, Mike Myers, Richard Gere

Notable trivia: During the telecast, rapper Kanye West, who was presenting with comedian Mike Myers, strayed from his prepared script and made the controversial assertion that U.S. President George W. Bush "doesn't care about black people". Organizers cut his microphone as Myers uncomfortably looked on.

Mary J. Blige and Bono perform during the Shelter from the Storm concert. (Aaron Harris/Canadian Press)

Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast

Sept. 9, 2005

$30 million

Organizers: American television networks

Performers included: U2, Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Paul Simon, Kanye West, Garth Brooks. Appearances also made by Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Jack Nicholson, and Chris Rock.

Notable trivia: Comedian Chris Rock joked, "George Bush hates midgets", referring to rapper Kanye West's statements made at another Hurricane Relief benefit. Rock then said, "We've all heard the question: 'Why didn't those people just leave when they had the chance?'But now, we all realize, not everyone can jump in their SUVs and go check into a nice hotel. Those people depend on public transportation and those people can't afford a nice hotel because some of them work there."

[Courtesy YouTube]

Farm Aid (American farmers)

Sept. 22, 1985 | Champaign, Ill.

$9 million (initial concert)

Organizers: Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young

The first Farm Aid concert, staged to help American farmers who were in danger of losing their farms to foreclosure, was held in Champaign, Ill. Additional concerts have been held in different cities around the United States almost every year since.

Audience: A crowd of 80,000 attended the inaugural concert, which was also broadcast on television.

Performers included: the Beach Boys, Bon Jovi, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel and B.B. King. Other prominent figures including Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange, Bill Cosby and Johnny Carson appeared in pre-recorded public service announcements.

Notable trivia: The 1989 instalment of Farm Aid was a 16-concert tour featuring Willie Nelson. While the initial concert raised $9 million, the movement has raised more than $40 million since it began.

Birhan Woldu waves to the crowd at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London, on July 2, 2005. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Live 8 (world poverty)

July 2, 2005

Concerts were held in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Chiba, Japan, Johannesburg, Moscow, Cornwall, U.K., Edinburgh — and Barrie, Ont.

The 11 concerts held in cities across the world were free; the proceeds from a British contest for tickets to the London concert raised £1.6 million ($2.5 million Cdn) for the Prince's Trust.

Despite having a similar name and some of the same participants, Bob Geldof said the event was not a sequel to 1985's Live Aid concert.

Notable trivia: The London concert featured a reunion of the British rock band Pink Floyd, who played together for the first time since 1981. Another key moment of the London concert was Bob Geldof's introduction of Birhan Woldu, the Ethiopian woman who, as a child, appeared in the footage that spurred him to organize Live Aid.

The 1984 footage of Woldu was gathered by former CBC correspondent Brian Stewart.

[Courtesy YouTube]

Concert for Bangladesh

Aug. 1, 1971 | New York City

$15 million

Organizers: George Harrison and Ravi Shankar

The concert was held at New York's Madison Square Garden and was attended by more than 40,000 people.

Perfomers included: Harrison, Shankar, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Leon Russell

This show is widely credited with creating the template for the modern benefit concert. Proceeds went to help the 10 million refugees who had fled Bangladesh’s civil war and the aftermath of the deadly 1970 Bhola Cyclone. The original show grossed $250,000, with no live broadcast. Later sales of the recording of the show raised the vast majority of the funds.

[Courtesy YouTube]

Concert for New York City (9/11 attacks)

Oct. 20, 2001 | New York City

$35 million US

Organizer: Paul McCartney

The concert was broadcast from Madison Square Garden on VH1.

Performers included: McCartney, The Who, Elton John, Jay-Z, David Bowie

Highlights from the six-hour show were later released as a two-DVD set. Short films from cinematic icons such as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Woody Allen were interspersed between musical acts. The crowd reacted warmly to comedian Adam Sandler belting out a 9/11-themed song as his Operaman character. Actor Richard Gere got a cooler reception, getting some boos for his plea for "peace and tolerance."

[Courtesy YouTube]

Tsunami aid concerts

Jan. 15, 2005 | New York, Los Angeles, London

$18.3 million US and $7 million Cdn

Organizer: George Clooney

U.S. audience: 5.7 million

Broadcast by NBC and related networks

Performers included: Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder and Sarah McLachlan

The NBC telethon followed an effort north of the border two days prior: Canada for Asia, organized by the CBC. The three-hour show — which aired Jan. 13 — drew 1 million viewers and raised $4 million. Featured performers included Canadian staples such as The Tragically Hip, Anne Murray, Blue Rodeo, Bryan Adams and Oscar Peterson. A later live benefit at GM Place in Vancouver starred Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, the Barenaked Ladies and others and raised $3 million.

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