August 1 – George Made Rock Charitable 50 Years Ago

His biographer Gary Tillery says on this day in 1971, George Harrison “changed the perception of recording artists, making it clear they could be good world citizens too!” He did that by organizing and starring in The Concert for Bangladesh, the first real effort to merge rock music and charity.

The area now known as Bangladesh had been undergoing a terrible two-fold crisis. A civil war and attempt to declare independence had left thousands dead and as many as seven million refugees, many crowding into India. And a massive cyclone had caused devastation the previous winter, killing tens of thousands more and washing away towns. Harrison had been briefed about the calamity by his friend, sitar-player Ravi Shankar, and decided to do something. (When asked why he got involved, he simply answered “because I was asked by a friend if I’d help.”)

His answer was a star-studded concert (or two) to raise funds for the refugees and popular awareness of the problem. After only six weeks of planning, Harrison staged a pair of concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden on this Sunday, at 2:30 and again at 8 pm. Although little-publicized, they sold out and the 40 000 fans raised about $250 000 for Unicef through initial ticket sales. The resulting album raised millions more, with Unicef apparently receiving about $12 million by the mid-’80s. Harrison got Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and more to perform. John Lennon had initially agreed to perform but backed out when it was clear Yoko Ono was unwelcome; Paul McCartney apparently refused outright, saying “blimey! What’s the point? We’d just broken up!” But fans weren’t short on great performers or performances, starting with Ravi Shankar followed by a long set featuring Harrison with his friends behind him, performing songs like a medley of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Young Blood” led by Russell, “Here Comes the Sun” and Dylan doing a five song set including “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”.

McCartney and Lennon missing notwithstanding, the set was a success, Phil Spector would say “it was magical…nobody had ever seen anything like that before” Spector produced the album for Harrison, which ended up hitting #1 in the UK and #2 in North America and winning the Grammy for Best Album. And with George’s help, the stage was set for future charity events, such as Live Aid 14 years down the road.

16 thoughts on “August 1 – George Made Rock Charitable 50 Years Ago

    1. absolutely. It might be a bit telling that while in the early-’70s Paul and John seemed to be writing some real snippy songs probably poking each other, George was just plodding away singing songs about peace and love. Great musician and seemed a highly decent man.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    George using his fame to benefit other people…for something positive. A lot of the rock and roll benefits started here from Live Aid to others…plus he was the first of them to be center stage like this on a musical project.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        I can see Paul’s point in all of this. It was too soon and they were in court. Yes George should get a lot of credit for starting it up.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. the sad part of the equation is that the more I read the more I seem to come to conclusion Paul is a bit of a (think of a nickname for ‘Richard’) as talented as he might be. Lennon used to be my fave, and he has put out some very good work on his own. ringo seems like a fun, highly , highly decent man and a fine drummer but only a so-so writer.

        Like

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