This week, Bruce Springsteen announced he wouldn’t be playing a concert in Greensboro, North Carolina on Sunday, April 10, 2016, because of the recently-passed law HB2, also known as the “bathroom” law. HB2 is actually called the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. This law requires transgendered people to use the bathrooms based on their biological sex rather than the sex they relate to, and also bans state lawsuits for any type of LGBT workplace discrimination.
In his detailed statement about the reason for the show cancellation, Bruce Springsteen said that the law “is an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress.” Bruce concluded with him saying, “Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”
Longtime E Street Band member, musician, songwriter, producer, actor and DJ Steven Van Zandt added that legislation like this has to be challenged: “This sort of thing is spreading like an evil virus around the country. We felt we better stop this, we should try and stop this early, and hopefully other people will rise up and join us.”
Steven Van Zandt continued by saying, “ Whether it’s women, whether it’s gay, transgender, there’s no difference. It was very important to us to take a stand early in this before it starts to spread all over the place.”
This isn’t the first time Steven Van Zandt has showed his support for a cause. He’s been a human rights activist for more than 30 years, and in 1985, the year that gave us huge charity events like “We Are The World” and Live Aid, Little Steven focused not on Ethiopia, but instead South Africa, namely Sun City.
Sun City is a casino resort developed in 1979 in the North West Province of South Africa, approximately a 2-hour drive from Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa. At the time, it was located in the Bantustan (homeland) of Bophuthatswana, an independent state under South Africa’s apartheid government (not recognized by any other country). Apartheid had been around since 1948 and is an Afrikaans word which means “separate” or “the state of being apart,” or simply put, “apart-hood.”
The United Nations had set forth a cultural boycott condemning the segregation of apartheid. Despite this, major recording acts were lured to performing there, including The Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, and in 1984, Queen (who claimed they only played to desegregated audiences), which may have sparked interest for Little Steven to write about Sun City and later form the protest group, Artists United Against Apartheid.
In the early stages of writing “Sun City,” Steven Van Zandt met up with journalist Danny Schechter, then working for ABC’s 20/20 news magazine, who suggested that Little Steven turn “Sun City” into a different kind of “We Are The World,” or rather, “a song about change not charity, freedom not famine.”
Little Steven and Danny Schechter got to work in recruiting performers for “Sun City,” mixing it up with Hip-Hop, R&B and Rock performers. Nearly 50 people contributed to the song, including Run-D.M.C., Grandmaster Melle Mel, jazz legend Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Ringo Starr and his son Zak, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Bonnie Raitt, Pat Benatar, Peter Wolf, Joey Ramone, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Gabriel, Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan, Darlene Love, Afrika Bambaataa, George Clinton, Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones, Jackson Browne, Clarence Clemons and Little Steven’s E-Street “Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. A music video was commissioned, produced by Godley & Creme and directed by Jonathan Demme.
The single for “Sun City” was banned in South Africa, but made inroads around the globe. It reached No. 4 in Australia, No. 6 in Canada, No. 21 in the U.K., and was a big hit in Holland.
Over here in the U.S., about half of American radio stations didn’t play the song, objecting to the the criticism towards President Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement,” or the alternative to the economic sanctions against South Africa; incentives to move South Africa away from apartheid. “Sun City” did manage to reach the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100, spending a week at No. 38 in December 1985 and 3 months on the chart.
Though more of a protest single than a charity single, “Sun City” did manage to raise more than a million dollars for anti-apartheid projects. Apartheid ended in 1994, and I’d like to think that Little Steven Van Zandt and “Sun City” had something to do with that.