Geldof Honored at Holocaust Museum

Bob Geldof
The Holocaust Museum Houston is having its annual award banquet this weekend and this year's honoree is musician and humanitarian, Bob Geldof. Houston Public Radio's Paul Pendergraft reports.

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Each year, the Holocaust Museum Houston recognizes an individual for their humanitarian efforts. Previous recipients include filmmaker Stephen Spielberg, former U. S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former U. S. President Dwight Eisenhower. This year's recipient is Bob Geldof and he's being recognized for his life-long commitment to social justice and specifically his two decades of work in Africa to help reduce debt, hunger and poverty. The award is called the Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award in honor of work done by Johnson in 1938, when he was as a junior Texas Congressman. Johnson worked to provide an American sanctuary for threatened European Jews. Geldof admits that he's humbled by this honor, especially knowing the horrors faced by the millions of Jews in the Nazi death camps.

"....to say that everyone is a movie is actually too small a thing....each story is so preposterously unreal. I really mean that. Of course the hideousness of the whole thing goes without saying, but how anyone gets through it. They literally are beyond extraordinary. There's nothing in my life that I can grab hold of that gives me any sort of understanding of what was gone through."

Geldof gained some prominence at a musician in the 70's, but his stature skyrocketed in 1984 after seeing a news report about famine in Ethiopia. He wrote the song "Do They Know It's Christmas" about the victims of the famine. Sales of that single raised 3 million dollars for relief. A year later, Geldof organized "Live Aid", a historical performance of many rock acts that was broadcast to a global television audience of a billion viewers. In the succeeding years, Geldof has continued his mission, using his public position to affect change.

"....to die of want in a world of surplus was not only intellectually absurd, but morally repulsive...that's me being polite. I was revolted. I was just lucky....I had a job and the ability to write songs. Had I been a plumber, I'd have done something and it would have been with my friends in plumbing, but it wouldn't have had the significance. That's just pure luck."

Geldof has received many honors for his humanitarian work. Among them, an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II and a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. He's a reluctant celebrity, but admits his prominence provides a platform from which he can help others.

"....many people have got some misgivings about the celebritization of misery and I would be one of them. The problem is in the world of the ubiquitous media, how do you get to address this? I've had endless journalists say, come on Bob, go to Africa....or come on George, go to Africa...or come on Bono, go to Africa....because we can't go. The great difficulty is how do you stop yourself from becoming the story? You can point the camera...and that's a tragedy. As I say, I share the misgivings of people...is this the correct way to function? Probably not but it seems to be the only way that sometimes we pay attention to them."

The last time Geldof was in Houston was almost thirty years ago when he was the lead singer for the Irish band, Boomtown Rats. A half a life later, Geldof still describes himself as a musician and songwriter and admits to some awe at the recognition he's receiving for his humanitarian work. He says the real heroes are the ones who lost their life in the death camps and those who came home with the permanent scars reflecting the horror of the Holocaust. He's grateful to the Holocaust Museum Houston for this honor and admits his "long walk from charity to justice" is not over, as there is more work to do.

Bio photo of Paul Pendergraft

Paul Pendergraft

Artistic Advisor

Paul Pendergraft is KUHF-Houston Public Radio’s Senior Producer for News & Public Affairs...