It's clear that tragedy often spurs art. Marking more than three decades of HIV/AIDS in the world has recently inspired filmmakers and artists to not only to commemorate the somber occasion but to toast activism in the face of tragedy and to fondly recall loved ones with a spate of documentaries chronicling the early days of the epidemic including We Were Here, United in Anger: A History of Act Up, 30 Years from Here, and How to Survive a Plague.
One of the enduring, salient aspects of United in Anger in particular is its invocation of music about HIV/AIDS that captured a moment and defined an era, transporting the viewer to those nascent days of Act Up.
Pioneering openly gay artists and allies including Jimmy Sommerville, the Pet Shop Boys and Cyndi Lauper addressed the epidemic in song even as the Reagan Administration stumbled to acknowledge the issue. Dionne Warwick and Friends banned together to raise money for AIDS research as early as 1985 while 1990 saw the release of the wildly popular, queer-positive Red, Hot + Blue benefit album.
Sometimes celebratory, often elegiac in tone, and always defiant against the disease and an apathetic government, here are 10 songs about HIV/AIDS that made a difference.
Elton John “The Last Song”
The legendary John penned “The Last Song” for his young friend Ryan White, a hemophiliac who contracted HIV / AIDS through a transfusion and was subsequently expelled from his middle school. Diagnosed in 1984, White became a de facto poster child for the disease, illustrating that people of every ilk were vulnerable. John and many other celebrities took up his cause. After White passed away in 1990 John included “The Last Song” on his 1992 album The One. The song played over the credits of the 1993 HBO film And the Band Played On.