Artists United Against Apartheid was a 1985 protest group founded by activist and performer Steven Van Zandt (Little Steven) and record producer Arthur Baker to protest apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was a system of racial segregation between years 1948 - 1994. The rights of the majority non-white inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and white supremacy was maintained. Sun City was (and still is) a luxury casino and resort situated in South Africa. It was founded in the late 70's. It provided entertainment such as gambling, topless revue shows, music shows, heavyweight boxing matches, Sun City Super Bowl with half-time show, etc. for the white rich minority.
The protest group produced the song "Sun City". The song was recorded at a series of sessions in 4 cities. Artists involved were: Bruce Springsteen, Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr, Lou Reed, Run DMC, Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Clarence Clemons, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, Jackson Browne, Darryl Hannah, Peter Wolf, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Stiv Bators, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil-Scott Heron, Nona Hendryx, Lotti Golden, Lakshminarayana Shankar and Joey Ramone. These artists also vowed to never perform in Sun City until the apartheid would be off.
This was one of the first collaborations among major recording stars to support a political, rather than a social cause. The project raised over $1 million dollars for anti-apartheid efforts. Sun City was a major success in countries where there was little or no radio station resistance to the record or its messages. Many radio stations in USA refused to play the song because it did not fit a specific format and was politically sensitive. There was also objection to the lyrics' explicit criticism of President Reagan's policy of "constructive engagement". The song was only a modest success in the US, reaching just #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1985.The song was naturally banned in South Africa.
List of shameful artists who DID perform in Sun City during the apartheid and therefore accepted the injustice:
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Elaine Page, Frank Sinatra, Queen, Elton John, Ray Cooper, Linda Ronstadt, Julio Iglesias, The O'Jays, Ray Charles, Boney M, Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Laura Branigan, Kim Wilde, Modern Talking, Cliff Richard, Curtis Mayfield.
Queen for example played a run of shows at Sun City. The artists were extremely well payed. Some artists later on claimed to be non-political and said they wanted to perform to their fans everywhere. Really, you would play to anyone who has the money? Even if you know the circumstances? Don't do it. It's dirty money!
Also many African American artists performed in Sun City during the apartheid. One of the controversial things about African American acts going to South Africa to play Sun City was that the South African government would label the artist "honorary whites". Their ears and minds must have been burning when hearing the Sun City lyrics: "Twenty-three million can't vote 'cause they're black. We're stabbing our brothers and sisters in the back" !!!
The Supremes played Sun City, though Cindy Birdsong and Scherrie Payne were disgusted with what they saw, spoke out and as a result the Supremes were asked to leave. Mary Wilson later apologized for the gig in Sun City and vowed they or she would never play there again after.
Little Steven considered naming artists who played the Sun City resort in the song, but decided not to. He asked them to participate in the project instead, but with poor result.
The legacy of this song is that it helped expose apartheid, a system of forced discrimination in South Africa. And never again could entertainers go and play Sun City for huge payoffs and ignore where the money came from.