World AIDS Day: 5 songs about those gone too soon

Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson, pictured in 2013, recorded "Together Again" about people lost to AIDS. Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images

TORONTO — The music world has lost many talented people to AIDS — mostly during the 1980s and ‘90s — in all genres.

They include Queen singer Freddy Mercury, disco singer Sylvester, classical pianist Liberace, CCR’s Tom Fogerty, Level 42 guitarist Alan Murphy, and R&B singer Jermaine Stewart.

The loss of people to AIDS has inspired many other artists to write and sing about it.

George Michael famously wrote 1995’s “Jesus to a Child” in memory of his partner Anselmo Feleppa, who died of an AIDS-related brain hemorrhage a few years earlier.

“I’m blessed I know / Heaven sent and heaven stole,” Michael sings.

Madonna included the song “In This Life” on her Erotica album. It’s about the death of two friends — singer Martin Burgoyne and dancer Christopher Flynn — who died of AIDS-related illnesses.

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She sings: “Some say that life isn’t fair / I say that people just don’t care / They’d rather turn the other way / While we wait for this thing to go away.”

One of Bruce Springsteen’s most successful singles was 1994’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” which he wrote as the theme for the AIDS-related drama Philadelphia. It won Springsteen an Oscar, Golden Globe and several Grammys.

The music industry has also used its power to raise funds for HIV/AIDS charities around the world. The most successful initiative was the Red Hot Organization, which released more than a dozen compilation albums that raised millions of dollars.

Annie Lennox brought together female artists in 2007 for “Sing,” a charity single that raised funds for the Treatment Action Campaign and aimed to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in Africa.

In 1985, Dionne Warwick teamed up with Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight to record the Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager song “That’s What Friends Are For” and raised $3 million for AIDS research.

In honour of World AIDS Day, here are five songs written about, or inspired by, people living with HIV/AIDS — and those who have passed away.

“Il Adore” – Boy George

The last song on his 1995 solo album, Cheapness and Beauty, was written about a mother’s sorrow as her gay son succumbs to AIDS. He sings: “Here in this cold white room / Tied up to these machines/ It’s hard to imagine him as he used to be / Laughing, screaming tumbling queen / Like the most amazing light show you’ve ever seen.”

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“Hold On” – Sarah McLachlan

The Canadian singer reportedly wrote “Hold On” after seeing a documentary about a woman whose fiancé was diagnosed with AIDS. “I lie awake and pray / That you’ll be strong tomorrow / And we’ll see another day,” she sings. “And we will praise it / And love the light that brings a smile.”


“Together Again” – Janet Jackson

According to the liner notes for her 1997 album The Velvet Rope, this song was inspired by a friend Jackson lost to AIDS and was dedicated to others who lost loved ones. It was re-recorded as a dance track and celebration of life.


“The Last Song” – Elton John

The second single from his 1992 album The One was written by John and Bernie Taupin about an estranged father who returns to his see his gay son, who is dying of AIDS.

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“One Sweet Day” – Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men

On this 1995 ballad, Carey and the members of Boyz II Men sing: “I know you’re shining down on me from Heaven / Like so many friends we’ve lost along the way / And I know eventually we’ll be together / One sweet day.” Carey has said the song was inspired by people in her life who passed away, including those who had been living with AIDS.