At an all-star event honoring the nonprofits ONE and (RED), co-founder Bono wanted to make one thing clear: "This is not a charity concert."
Instead, the U2 frontman wanted to celebrate the achievements in the fight against AIDS with the help of Miley Cyrus, Vice President Joe Biden, Sting and Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, which was Worlds AIDS Day.
"This is a celebration. This is an instigation. This is a provocation. This is not a charity concert," Bono told the audience at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Bono thanked his supporters, spoke about AIDS statistics and rocked onstage with the Edge, performing U2 hits like "Every Breaking Wave," ''Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" and "Angels of Harlem."
Biden, who appeared with his wife Jill Biden, said Bono impressed him by convincing leaders to assist the advocacy organizations ONE and (RED), including the late Sen. Jesse Helms.
"I was there when Bono walked in, met Jesse Helms for the first time and convinced Jesse Helms in one fell swoop to forgive $6 billion in third-world debt. ...That's when I became a disciple of the church of Bono," Biden said.
Biden also paid tribute to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the night's honorees. Sting spoke highly of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's former finance minister, while former President Bill Clinton — who earned rock star applause when he entered the stage — highlighted work done by entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim. Clinton noted that Ibrahim's daughter, Hadeel, is on the board of directors of the Clinton Foundation.
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Colbert, who was onstage to honor Bill and Melinda Gates, said Bono told him that an inspiring conversation with Bill Gates led the singer-activist to create ONE, which launched in 2004. He launched (RED) in 2006.
"He said the Gates didn't only just write a check. ...Bill Gates helped 'professionalize' the organization," Colbert said. "Bill Gates brought his brain power, his insights, his business acumen, his understanding of the role commerce would play in wiping out poverty."
Colbert urged governments to continue to work together to assist the organization soon "because Donald Trump," he said, pausing as the audience laughed, "if he's elected, all bets are off. Just tear up your history books and live in a cage because it's every man for himself."
The night featured more comical moments. "Daily Show" host Trevor Noah, who is from South Africa, joked about why Bono asked him to host the event.
"I'm the perfect guy for the AIDS event because I'm from Africa?" Noah said, recalling his conversation with Bono.
"No, because you're down the road and you're free."
The most emotional moment when "Walking Dead" actress and playwright Danai Gurira performed part of a play she wrote while studying at New York University.
"It was a piece I created out of a rage really. I wanted to see women of African descent, women from the continents spoken of as more than statistics," she said.
The striking eight-minute, one-woman performance had her in tears at its end, and the audience in awe.
"After what I just saw I'm very scared," Cyrus said as she followed Gurira. "You'll have to stand up just to make me feel good at the end."
But the pop star earned her applause. She sang songs from her latest album, "Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz," which she released for free this year. The highlight was "Pablow the Blowfish," a soft piano tune that was both passionate and hilarious. She, like Gurira, was in tears at the end of the performance.
Cyrus was dressed in a bright, glittery pink jacket and pants and strung a new guitar she received for her birthday.
"I just turned 23, and as a baby I know I will live in an AIDS-free world one day," she said.
The performers were backed by the Orchestra of St. Luke's and Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra. Big-voiced British singer Jessie J performed an original tune and Prince's "Purple Rain," and Irish singer Hozier sang his well-known hit, "Take Me to Church," and "When Love Comes to Town" with Bono and the Edge.
Jessie J, Cyrus, Edge and Bono finished the night singing U2's "One," though Cyrus stood awkwardly onstage since she said the lyrics weren't appearing on the prompter.
"You got to help me," she said looking to Bono. "Nothing is there."