Examples exist in musical history of concerts being staged for philanthropic purposes. In 1749, the composer George Frideric Handel wrote his Foundling Hospital Anthem, and put on annual performances of Messiah, to support an orphans' charity in London. While many composers and performers took part in concerts to raise donations charitable causes, it was also not unusual in the 18th and 19th centuries for musicians to stage performances to raise funds for their own professional work, such as Ludwig van Beethoven's 1808 Akademie concert.
The modern understanding of a benefit concert is of a large-scale, popular event put on to support a charitable or political cause. In the modern era, the first benefit concert is generally held to be the Concert For Bangladesh, a programme of two events held at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1971, which were organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. However, the format of most modern concerts was established in 1985 by Bob Geldof’s Live Aid event.