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Live Aid 1985: The Day the World Rocked

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As it turned out, that wasn't true, either. Several major black artists — including Rick James, Philip Bailey, Run-D.M.C. and Dionne Warwick — apparently had not been invited. Nonetheless, Geldof had been in touch with most black superstars and had been turned down. "He started calling me regularly in May, when he was finding that there was difficulty getting the key black acts," said Ken Kragen, who manages Lionel Richie, organized the "We Are the World" session and serves as president of USA for Africa. "He was very frustrated. What I told him, which is the truth, is 'Bob, I would be more than happy to help you with that, but I've had considerable difficulty getting anybody to turn out for stuff myself. Everybody is kind of acting like they already gave.'"

Geldof also asked producer Quincy Jones to use his influence. Jones, in turn, put two employees on the case full time, contacting managers, lawyers and artists.

But the media continued to press the issue, causing Graham and Geldof to intensify their search for black performers. The Four Tops were subsequently added to the bill, as were Patti LaBelle, Tina Turner, Teddy Pendergrass and Ashford and Simpson. Kool and the Gang and Prince both contributed videos. And when Graham learned that Run-D.M.C., the most popular rap group in America, had offered to play but had been turned down by someone in his New York office, he called the group's manager the next day and added them to the show.

Yet the scarcity of black superstars couldn't be ignored. "Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder — why aren't they doing it?" wondered Richard Walters, of the Norby Walters Agency, which books many black acts. "The question is, Why are artists not supporting it? Any individual artist can get on a plane and put himself there. It's the easiest thing in the world. They don't have to bring their band if their band's not available. Just their presence is important."

There was no single answer to the question. Everyone had a reason. Diana Ross was on tour, unavailable. Same for the Pointer Sisters. Donna Summer was in the studio. Michael Jackson? "He's totally immersed in a couple of heavy projects," said Norman Winter, his publicist. "He's got major, major commitments that he can't get out of. He'd liked to have done the show, but it's impossible." Couldn't he fly in to sing a duet with Jagger or McCartney? "He could join forces with Paul McCartney," agreed the publicist. "He and Paul work very well together, but he has other commitments."

The Witnesses

Pity the Jehovah's Witnesses. For fourteen years they had held a four-day convention at Veteran's Stadium, right across the way from JFK. This year, one of those days was to be Saturday, July 13th — that is, until they heard about the Live Aid concert and remembered what happened when the Who played JFK two years ago during their convention. Rock fans urinated in jars and threw them at the Witnesses; some even mistook Veteran's Stadium for JFK and tried to gain entrance into the convention hall, where one of the featured talks was about the evils of rock music. This year the Witnesses decided to pull out before Saturday. Some say they did it in the spirit of global cooperation, but what is certain is that with the Witnesses no longer at Veteran's Stadium, there were 5500 more parking spaces available for the fans heading to JFK.

The Russians Are Coming

Five days after the Live Aid organizers announced the event, Richard Lukens, the international director of Worldwide, hopped on a jet. His destinations: the Soviet Union, India and the People's Republic of China. His mission: to enlist them for the Live Aid cause.

Lukens' first stop was the Soviet Union. He had dealt with officials there before, when he produced the first interactive telecast between the Soviet Union and the United States for the Us Festival in 1982. Now he had three requests for Moscow. He wanted them to broadcast the show over Gosteleradio, the state radio and television network. He wanted to include General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev among a group of dignitaries and celebrities who were taping one-minute messages for the broadcast. And he wanted the Russian authorities to allow two of the country's rock bands — Autograph and Time Machine — to appear live via satellite during the broadcast.

The last request bothered the Russians. "They wondered whether their groups were of the same caliber as the other groups performing on the show," said Lukens. "Would they look bad or embarrass themselves? Plus, they wondered if they were going to look bad if they didn't raise money and everyone else did."

Ultimately, the Soviets agreed to allow Autograph to perform as part of the show. Gorbachev, however, did not tape a message, and though the country did take the broadcast, it was reportedly shown to only about 150 people.

India agreed to air ten hours of the broadcast, and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appeared in a one-minute videotaped message. The Chinese planned to transmit a videotape of some traditional music, but because of technical complications, it never arrived.

Jockeying For Position

As July 13th neared, Bill Graham began to feel the heat. In all, close to 100 recording artists had asked to participate in the American show — more than could possibly perform.

"The problem is, God forbid, you have to say no to an artist who can sell out the Meadowlands Arena or Madison Square Garden," New York-area promoter John Scher said in sympathy for Graham. "That could end the relationship. And I'm sure that now there are managers and some artists who are jockeying for position. It is nightmarish."

"I would think that there's ulterior motives for over seventy-five percent of the acts," said Eric Clapton's manager, Roger Forrester. "They forget what the cause is about — 'I want prime-time viewing. I want this. I'm not playing with him. I'm not following that person. I've got to be on between eight and eleven for the ABC network.' Forget it all, just do it!"

In the end, Graham turned down several big-name bands, including, reportedly, Foreigner and Yes. But, by starting the American show at nine a.m. instead of at noon, and by shortening some sets, Graham managed to squeeze additional performers on to the bill.

"People like Crosby, Stills and Nash deserve to be in the show," Graham said. "Creatively, they have a right, and they've also been there for all of the positive movements over the last twenty years. How could you not put them in the show?"

When the curtain finally rose in Philadelphia, there were thirty-nine acts on the bill; in London, twenty-two acts performed.

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