Prince’s Baltimore 'Rally 4 Peace': Do benefit concerts work?

Prince is surprising Baltimore with a 'Rally 4 Peace' concert this Mother's Day. Benefit concerts have been a popular fundraising technique since Live Aid in 1985, but how effective are they?

John Shearer/Invision/AP/File
Prince presents the award for album of the year at the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Prince has announced plans to perform at a concert in Baltimore following recent unrest in the city over the death of a man who was fatally injured in police custody. A statement issued Tuesday, May 5, 2015, says the pop icon will perform Sunday, May 10, at “Rally 4 Peace,” a concert at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.

Prince, known for his surprise concerts, announced that he will be holding a benefit concert in Baltimore to honor Freddie Gray, a Baltimore man who died while in police custody in April, with an undisclosed portion of the proceeds pledged to charities that support Baltimore youth.  

The “Rally 4 Peace” concert will be held on May 10 with Prince’s band 3rdEyeGirl at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.

“In a spirit of healing, the event is meant to be a catalyst for pause and reflection following the outpouring of violence that has gripped Baltimore and areas throughout the US,” according to a statement released by LiveNation, the concert promoter. “As a symbolic message of our shared humanity and love for one another, attendees are invited to wear something gray in tribute to all those recently lost in the violence.”

Tickets won't go on sale until 5 p.m. Wednesday. 

In addition to the concert, Prince will also be debuting his new single “Baltimore,” which Prince wrote as a tribute to all the people of Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. The lyrics were recently made public and include a message of redemption:

Nobody got in nobody’s way

So I guess you could say

It was a good day

At least a little better than the day in Baltimore

Does anybody hear us pray?

For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray

Peace is more than the absence of war

Absence of war

This is not the first time Prince has acted in support of the black community. While awarding the Album of The Year award at the Grammy’s, Prince made sure the audience had not forgotten about Michael Brown, saying “Like books and Black lives, albums still matter.”

The enigmatic musician doesn't fit in a classic political box. He has condemned homosexuality, and hasn't been known for being politically active. He says that he doesn’t vote. Prince refused to work on the 1985 We Are The World project to benefit Africa because he did not want to work with other artists, although he did donate a track, “4 The Tears In Your Eyes” to the benefit album. So, the Baltimore concert appears to be another facet of the artist’s eccentric personality.

Benefit concerts have been a norm in the music industry ever since 1985′s Live Aid – a concert that raised $245 million for famine relief in Ethiopia. But some question the effectiveness of these concerts and the musicians' commitment to social change. Some wonder how much of the money raised actually benefits the advertised charities. Others have asked: Why not have these wealthy artists donate directly to these causes rather than asking middle-class people to donate small amounts?

Paul Schervish, director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, says that even if it is an indirect way of raising funds, it works and it makes both the musicians and attendees feel good.

“They are not able to call up the 20 wealthiest philanthropists, but they can get their colleagues together to perform and get people to attend concerts,” Schervish told Forbes. “That’s emotionally satisfying, and it creates happiness for the celebrities and the people who are donating.”

These concerts are also good at raising large amounts of money quickly, for example Hope For Haiti Now raised $57 million after the 2010 earthquake and America: A Tribute to Heroes raised $150 million after the 9/11 attacks.

In an article for The Guardian, advocacy manager at the Global Poverty Project Michael Sheldrick argues that benefit concerts are not just about raising money or the music, but about raising awareness for a cause. 

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