Peter Gabriel, Now 70, Is Still Making Music and Fighting for Human Rights

Peter Gabriel has spent his life making music, promoting artists from around the world and shining a light on human rights abuses

Peter Gabriel‘s interest in music began while singing hymns in church, but it was hearing the drums for the first time that ignited his passion to create music.

Drums and African music would become the foundation of much of his recorded music decades later. For six years as the lead singer for the progressive rock band, Genesis, Gabriel honed his skills as a singer and theatrical performer wearing makeup and costumes that helped Genesis develop a devoted following. After six albums with Genesis, he announced his departure and drummer Phil Collins would take his place as Genesis’ lead singer while Gabriel took music lessons and prepared to embark on his solo career. 

WDET’s Ann Delisi tells Peter Gabriel’s story, from his early days in Genesis to his current initiatives promoting human rights and world music. Gabriel tells the story of the song he heard while sitting in the back seat of his parents’ car and talks about the performance he saw at the age of 17 that would literally change his life.

Click on the player above to hear the story of Peter Gabriel, musician and human rights advocate.

He released four albums titled “Peter Gabriel,” began exploring world music, and stepped into politics and human rights with the song “Biko” that appeared on his third self-titled album in 1980.

The song recounted the imprisonment and death of South African human rights activist, Steve Biko, who died while in police custody. The release of this song would set in motion decades of human rights work including work with Amnesty International and co-founding Witness, a non-profit organization that documented human rights violations and their consequences.

“People around the world had been tortured or lost loved ones [were] suddenly talking to us and it’s very hard at that point to walk away.”

“It was a life-changing experience for many of us because human rights is something you read about or see in The Guardian newspaper,” said Gabriel of the work. “We hadn’t really met many people around the world that had been tortured or lost loved ones and suddenly there they were and they’re talking to us and it’s very hard at that point to walk away. I was shocked that people could go through some of these experiences and then have their horrors totally denied, buried and forgotten.”

Gabriel would also create WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance), the RealWorld Studios providing state-of-the-art recording facilities for artists from around the world, and then launched a label so that the world could hear those recordings.

In 1986, he released the album “SO” which was his biggest commercial success. It invoked his love of soul music for the first time and of the eight songs on this album, two were Top 10 hits for which he received three Grammy nominations.

He also received nine MTV Video Music Awards for the groundbreaking video for “Sledgehammer.” His duet with Kate Bush was a moving duet about despair and loneliness that unintentionally prevented some people who heard it, from taking their own lives. The song “In Your Eyes” became a part of pop culture when film director, Cameron Crowe, included it in the film “Say Anything” and was also Peter Gabriel’s attempt to address love beyond the love of a man and a woman. 

To this day, Peter Gabriel’s RealWorld Studios and RealWorld Music Label continue to support artists from around the world. He still makes his own music and continues to use his voice to fight for human rights.

Support the news you love.

Here at WDET, we strive to make our journalism accessible to everyone. As a non-profit public media institution, we maintain our journalistic integrity through independent support from readers like you. Because you value WDET as your source of news, music, and conversation, please make a gift of support today. Even $5 helps!

Donate today »


  • Ann Delisi
    Ann Delisi hosts Essential Music, the Essential Conversations podcast series and the Essential Cooking broadcast and podcast. Born and raised in the Motor City, Ann is a broadcaster, interviewer, producer, music host, storyteller and proud Detroiter.