The Concert For Bangladesh: Celebrating 40 Years of Giving Back

  • Originally published: July 31, 2011

On November 12, 1970, a devastating cyclone hit East Pakistan causing severe flooding and numerous fatalities. In a country that was already suffering from famine and a war, the disaster of a storm was the last thing they needed. Fast forward almost a year later and the country had yet to recover. Native Pakistani and world renowned Sitarist, Ravi Shankar was devastated by the lack of resources and aid Bangladesh was receiving. It was in July 1971 when he approached his friend and protege, George Harrison. Could George help? Ravi asked. Harrison went on to write and record the benefit single, "Bangladesh" and made sure every cent went to UNICEF. Feeling that the release of the single was not enough, Shankar approached Harrison with the idea of a "small" benefit concert to help with continuing efforts. Right away, plans for what would be become "The Concert For Bangladesh" were under way. The show was organized in just five weeks.

Originally, Harrison had asked his former band mates, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr to help him by performing along side him on stage in New York. In the end, Starr was the only one to show. McCartney felt it awkward seeing as the Beatles had only broken up a year earlier. Lennon was on for the show up until two days prior. George had asked that Yoko Ono not perform with Lennon, which Lennon agreed to, but Yoko found it offensive and John left the state two days before the big show.

George Harrison (left) and Ravi Shankar
George Harrison (left) and Ravi Shankar

With Ravi and Ringo in tow, Harrison had yet to complete his band. He reached out to his musician friends, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman, Pete Ham of Badfinger, and an unconfirmed until the very last second appearance by the man himself, Bob Dylan. A date was set for August 1st, 1971 and the location was Madison Square Garden. There were to be two shows. One at noon and another at seven. All in mind was a goal to raise $15,000. They ended up raising a total of five million instead.

Harrison's infamous white suit featured stiched "Om" symbols in the suit's collar.
Harrison's infamous white suit featured stiched "Om" symbols in the suit's collar.
Ringo Starr was the only other former Beatle to play along with drummer Jim Keltner.
Ringo Starr was the only other former Beatle to play along with drummer Jim Keltner.
Harrison and Clapton (far right)
Harrison and Clapton (far right)
Harrison, Bob Dylan (center) and Leon Russell.
Harrison, Bob Dylan (center) and Leon Russell.

As we prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the legendary show, UNICEF has declared August, The Month of Giving. The Concert for Bangladesh has been released digitally on itunes and a free streaming was offered July 29 through the first. All proceeds from the sales go towards the George Harrison Foundation for UNICEF. For a great cause, and great music. Though Harrison passed away in 2001, he'd be proud to see how much of an imprint his "small" show left on the world.

Dylan performing "It Takes A Lot to Laugh (It takes A Train to Cry)"

Billy Preston performing "That's The Way God Planned It"

Harrison performing "Here Comes the Sun"

Harrison performing "Bangladesh"

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