Bob Geldof is not best known for his The Boomtown Rats rock group whose biggest hit, I Don’t Like Mondays (an anthem for starting many a work or school week), was written about a shooting spree at an elementary school. The 63-year-old received unwanted attention as the grieving father of the late Peaches Geldof. But, Sir Bob Geldof’s biggest contribution, for which the Queen knighted him, and claim to fame has been the highly successful charity efforts he spawned to aid people in Africa the past 30 years.
Younger people are used to charity concerts and albums, but 30 years ago the idea of top celebrities suppressing their egos and recording a charity song was revolutionary. But Geldof rallied top artists to participate in his 1984 Band Aid recording session, record companies to support their artists’ involvement and the public to purchase the record. Geldof’s effort is widely recognized as responsible for the successful fundraising of Band Aid, Live Aid, USA for Africa and imitators like Farm Aid.
Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the song recorded by Band Aid and sold to raise funds, has been used to aid African disasters three times. In 1984, it was recorded to support relief efforts after a drought resulted in a massive Ethiopian famine, in 2004 to provide famine relief in Sudan’s Darfur area and now to raise money for the fight against Ebola. (There was a smaller recording and less well-known effort in 1989, too.)
Geldof admits that the song is not his best writing. He has adapted the lyrics for the situation. For example, in 1984, the drought led to wording “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow.” The newest rendition talks about the spread of the Ebola virus with lines like “where a kiss of love can kill you and there’s death in every tear.”
Geldof was born and raised in Ireland. He worked for a while as a journalist in British Columbia, but went back to Ireland in 1975 and became the Boomtown Rates lead singer and songwriter. They had an initial hit in 1978 with Rat Trap before …Mondays in 1979. But his career and group were fading in the mid-1980s.
Reportedly, he was pondering his troubles when he saw BBC coverage of the famine in Ethiopia in Oct. 1984. Deeply moved, within four weeks he had rallied 30 of the biggest rock names at the time in England (Paul McCartney, Bono, Simon Le Bon, Sting, Phil Collins, George Michael and more) to show up on a particular day in November and record the song he penned. The recording sold almost 12 million copies worldwide and led to the We Are The World Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie effort with American artists early in 1985 that raised an estimated $63 million.
Geldof has since become known as the rock star who ignites his peers (and those who have been successful since his heyday) to assemble for charity. It is a role he reportedly does not relish and finds “it’s quite embarrassing calling people you don’t know.” But Bob Geldof recognizes that the biggest contribution he can make for “the people suffering from this filthy little virus” is another aid effort for Africa.
By Dyanne Weiss