The Power Of One and the Music That Changed the World


A short time ago I was engaged in a conversation with some friends about the impact one person can have on the world, particularly when working with small groups.  During the conversation my thoughts drifted to a novel, which was later made into a movie written in 1989 by Bryce Courtney called, “THE POWER OF ONE.” You may have read it.

It is a story about the positive impact a small, very talented young boy named Peekay had on others while growing up in South Africa from 1939 until 1951. Running through the story was the message given to Peekay by his coaches, en route to him becoming a boxing champion, FIRST WITH THE HEAD AND THEN WITH THE HEART. Leading first with the head being: Strategize, plan and prepare. Then following through with the heart, being passionate and enthusiastic. Emotion and perseverance.

If you think about it, this message is not just for a boxer. If utilized, this concept can affect the outcomes of much of what we all do everyday. 


Several weeks after this conversation, I watched a gripping new documentary which told the fascinating behind the scenes story about the making of the song, “WE ARE THE WORLD.” 

It chronicles how in 1985 the best rock musicians in the U.S.A. were mobilized to write, record and produce a song which would create awareness of and raise money for, the victims of the devastating famine in Ethiopia. 

Bob Geldof

The creation of a special piece of music for famine relief was not a new idea. It had originated a short time before in the U.K. with a leading Irish rock singer named Bob Geldof.

Geldof is the Peekay of this story and unknowingly he led first with the head, and followed through with the heart, making a huge impact on the welfare of millions of people, particularly in Africa.

Geldof had a strong social conscience. Spurred on by his wife, Paula Yates, and together with fellow musician Midge Ure, wrote a song called, “DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS?” To sing it, they created a super group called, “BAND AID.”

Bono and Paul McCartney

Some of the singers included Bono, Boy George, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Who, Diana Ross and Elton John.  The song was a big hit and sold over 3.8 million copies in the U.K. and 12 million world wide.

The song was followed by a concert, “LIVE AID,” organized by Geldof and Midge Ure, with Geldof the main driver. The LIVE AID concert was held in Wembley stadium in the U.K. and 72,000 people came. Other concerts were held the same day in 13 other countries, including JFK Stadium in Philadelphia where 90,000 attended. 

The attraction was not just doing something for poverty and famine, but also witnessing the best rock musicians singing together in the U.K. and elsewhere. 

Live Aid in Wembley Stadium

In the U.K. the Band Aid group included many musicians including Queen (Freddie Mercury), Keith Richards and Sting. In addition to the song, many of the musicians performed their own music.

The Philadelphia, concert coordinated by rock promoter Bill Graham included, among others, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, The Beach Boys and Tom Petty. 

One of the performers, Phil Collins, thanks to the Concorde and the time difference, appeared at both Wembley and JFK on the same day.   

With Live AID appearing in 13 countries and the amazing collection of performers, the BBC created an international TV hookup  resulting in LIVE AID appearing in 150 countries on 95% of the world’s TVs and watched by 1.9 billion people (40% of the world’s population at that time). You may have been one of them.*

LIVE AID raised an estimated 100 million dollars, which in today’s currency is about $275 million. 

Lionel Ritchie and Quincy Jones

The LIVE AID concerts motivated many people, including Harry Belafonte. Belafonte believed the U.S.A. needed to make their own record with their top musicians and felt it was important that many of the musicians should be black, so African-Americans were doing their part to help end famine. He took action and recruited Quincy Jones to produce it, and Lionel Ritchie. Ritchie then spoke to Michael Jackson. Together Ritchie and Jackson wrote, “WE ARE THE WORLD.”

Ritchie then recruited some of the top rock stars, who happened to be together at a music awards event he was hosting in Los Angeles.

Starting at 11 pm these artists gathered together in a recording studio where they learned and recorded the song, “WE ARE THE WORLD.”  To start it off Bob Geldof gave a short motivational talk on why they were there. Quincy, Lionel, Bob and other producers then cajoled, humored, taught and organized the musicians until the recording was finished at 7 a.m.

You may know of most of the singers. They included Michael Jackson, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Huey Lewis, Smokey Robinson, Dione Warwick, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie, and a surprisingly nervous Bob Dylan. 

Getting them together was an accomplishment in itself… so was keeping their egos in check. Someone made a sign, “Leave Your Egos at the door.” It had limited effect.

If you want to watch the gripping  and entertaining behind the scenes story of the making of the record go to Netflix to watch, “The Greatest Night In Pop.” You will not be sorry. Or if you want to just listen to the podcast go to: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-greatest-night-in-pop/id1375339408?i=1000644466216

The estimated end result was another $100 million raised ($275 million in today’s money). This did not include millions donated by motivated listeners to other organizations working on world poverty and the famine crisis. The production also raised awareness of poverty and the conscience and compassion of 100s of millions of people around the world who donated towards the feeding of millions of starving men, women and children in Ethiopia. ** Here is a link to the song, “We are the World:https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/YXe70Qn2MsY?playlist=YXe70Qn2MsY&autoplay=1&iv_load_policy=3&loop=1&start=

Not to be forgotten, Canadians *** who  produced their own song, “TEARS ARE NOT ENOUGH,” written by five people, including David Foster.

Northern Lights

They were joined by many of Canada’s top pop/rock singers, a group called Northern Lights, including: Bruce Cockburn, Burton Cummings, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Bryan Adams, Gordon Lightfoot, Dan Hill, Neil Young, Geddy Lee (Rush), Ronnie Hawkins and many more singing in the chorus. A percentage of the Canadian money raised went to Canadian Food Banks.  

All of these songs, plus the Latin American version, “Cantare, Cantaros,” were put together in a recording. https://youtu.be/2k70mf5ZDDw?list=TLGGYPKAhG811KcxMDAzMjAyNA h

Many think the best song was “Tears Are Not Enough.” It was chosen as Canada’s top song for 1985. https://youtu.be/VJN3u1wAWIk?list=TLGGBFlg5_SqP9cxMDAzMjAyNA

This  movement was all started and driven by Bob Geldof, who was encouraged by his wife Paula, and in turn motivated several small groups of musicians to focus on a common cause. These groups entertained millions of people around the world, raised $750 million (in today’s money), and fed hundreds of thousands, saving countless lives. 

In 1985 the book, “THE POWER OF ONE,” had not even been written, however, Geldof and others, by using their HEADS and their HEARTS showed the world the POWER of one person together with small groups of motivated people.**** 

While this is an old story brought to life again by Netflix, the story is timeless. In fact, situations to lead with the head and follow through with the heart occur all the time, be it in sports, climate activism, fundraising for millions of causes, dealing with disasters and  finding solutions to both everyday and major problems. You likely have witnessed many yourself.  

While the impact may not be as great as the famine relief initiative, outcomes are always positively affected, and that is good news. 

Till next time, 

Chris Snyder 

climate optimist

Email: snyderchris74@gmail.com  

Stories of Good News and Hope: http://chrissnyder.ca/

*By comparison, the 2024 Super Bowl attracted 123 million and the first walk on the moon, 160 million. This story is still told and the songs are still sung, continuing to motivate men and women from the elderly to young children, who were not even born then, to act together for others all over the world. 

** There has been much controversy over how much of the money actually got to the people. Geldof was knighted and continues as a musician performing with the Boomtown Rats and working for humanitarian causes. 

***Of note, the story of the Ethiopian Famine was first brought to the world by the CBC’s Brian Stewart. Warning: the link is disturbing, and you will need to watch one minute of ads first, but the story is important to watch. https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2653031499

****The noted anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt the power of small groups of committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

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