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27 Years Ago: Bruce Springsteen and Sting Kick Off ‘Human Rights Now!’ Tour

On Sept. 2, 1988, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Peter Gabriel kicked off the Human Rights Now! tour at London’s Wembley Stadium. The 20-date tour was a benefit for Amnesty International in honor of the 40th anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Since 1976, Amnesty had called upon musicians to help raise money, most famously with the Secret Policeman’s Balls concerts in London and the six-show Conspiracy of Hope U.S. tour in 1986. But now they were taking it worldwide. Over the course of six weeks, they played major cities on five continents, including places not usually frequented by Western rock acts, like Harare, Zimbabwe; New Dehli, India and Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Ticket prices for the Third World concerts were reduced, with the cost defrayed by a grant from the Reebok Foundation.

In addition to the three stars, all of whom were at the peak of their global popularity, Tracy Chapman and Senegalese star Youssou N’Dour (best known to Western voices as the voice at the end of Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”) were the main acts. The bill was filled out at each stop with a few guest stars from that country.

The shows began and ended with everybody singing Bob Marley’s anthem “Get Up, Stand Up” (see video above); Bob Dylan‘s “Chimes of Freedom” was also regularly performed. The musicians made speeches about the importance of global human rights and frequently guested during each other’s sets. Springsteen, Sting and Gabriel wore identical black vests without shirts onstage, possibly as a show of solidarity.

The tour’s finale, in Buenos Aires on Oct. 15, was broadcast on the radio and shown on HBO a few months later. As a footnote, it was the last concert Springsteen would play with the E Street Band until their reunion in 1999.

A DVD box set of the Human Rights Now! tour and three other all-star Amnesty benefit concerts was released in the fall of 2013. For more information, visit their website.

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