Rhino Factoids: Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Rhino Factoids: Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute

26 years ago today, a variety of musicians, comedians, and actors stepped upon the stage of London’s Wembley Stadium to pay tribute to noted South African politician Nelson Mandela, whose efforts to end apartheid among his people put him behind bars for decades, in conjunction with his 70th birthday.

Described by journalist Robin Deneslow as the "biggest and most spectacular pop-political event of all time, a more political version of Live Aid with the aim of raising consciousness rather than just money,” the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute – also known as Freedomfest or the Free Nelson Mandela Concert – was organized by Tony Hollingsworth, who got the idea after having a chat with Jerry Dammers of The Specials. It took awhile to bring the event to fruition, but when it finally came to pass, it certainly wasn’t lacking for star power. Mind you, some stars were less thrilled with other stars – when the initial list of artists who’d be performing was released, in hopes of securing additional artists with the big names involved, Simple Minds grouched about the inclusion of Whitney Houston and George Michael – but most eventually set aside their annoyances in favor of the greater cause.

There was one major snafu during the course of the event, however, when a surprise appearance by Stevie Wonder was screwed up by someone losing the programming for his synclavier, resulting in Wonder refusing to play without it and abruptly departing the stadium. Eventually, Wonder changed his mind and agreed to come back and play, but in his temporary absence, someone still had to fill the timeslot originally allotted for his performance. The beneficiary: Tracy Chapman, who ended up playing her second set of the day and, as a result, reportedly sold 1.75 million more copies of her self-titled debut album in the two weeks after the concert than she had in the two months prior to her performance.

To celebrate the anniversary of the event, we’ve put together a playlist which features songs which were performed at the event, some by the artists who actually performed them, others by…well, others. (We always enjoy a good cover song here at Rhino, you know.) By the way, just in case you didn’t know, the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute didn’t actually take place on Mandela’s 70th birthday. That didn’t happen ‘til June 18th. And it also didn’t result in his immediate release from prison, unfortunately, but it certainly served to draw international attention to his plight, which means that it was about as successful as any such concert can hope to be.