A track off her 2007 album Songs of Mass Destruction, “Sing” was inspired by Annie Lennox’s first meeting with South African activist Zackie Achmat at Nelson Mandela’s 46664 HIV/AIDS campaign in 2003. HIV positive himself, Achmat co-founded the Treatment Action Campaign, an organization that fights for AIDS treatment access and prevention.
“We need people like [Achmat], he fights the fight,” Lennox told the BBC in 2007. “He refused to take his anti-retroviral medication unless it was made affordable and available to everyone — a hugely courageous thing to do. Before then, I’d been frustrated because I wanted to be more hands-on. I just feel that TAC are doing it where it needs to happen. It really needed to be given support, and I thought that perhaps I might be well-placed to do it.”
Emboldened by Achmat’s work, she began writing a song that also incorporated a tune called “Jikelele,” given to her by a group of South African activists called the Generics.
Having completed the basic track, Lennox reached out to high profile women in music, asking them to send in a tape of themselves singing the “Sing my sister Sing! / Let your voice be heard” refrain. “I wrote down a mission statement and sent a letter to a list of women that I thought would be really good contenders,” she told the New York Times. Nearly all responded, resulting in a chorus of 23, including Celine Dion, Gladys Knight, Pink, Faith Kill, k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan, Shakira, Bonnie Raitt, Joss Stone and Madonna — who added a little extra.
“Lo and behold, Madonna’s track came back and she’d sung the second verse, which was a huge bonus,” Lennox continued. “I was really touched, for Madonna is very rigorous in what she gets involved in and for her to do that for me, I was thrilled to bits.”
The single version was released on December 1st, World AIDS Day, in 2007, with proceeds going towards TAC. The cover came emblazoned with a manifesto from the artist, reading: “Several years ago, I personally witnessed Nelson Mandela standing in front of his former prison cell on Robben Island, addressing the world’s press. His message was that the pandemic of HIV/AIDS in Africa was, in fact, a genocide. Since that time I resolved to do as much as I can to bring attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis.”