‘Bangla Desh’: George Harrison’s Humanitarian Plea To The World

He brought a humanitarian crisis to the world’s attention as only a former Beatle could.

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Bangla Desh George Harrison
Artwork: UMG

George Harrison made it his life’s work to raise consciousness, in every sense of the phrase. In 1971, he managed the extraordinary combination of both raising money for a desperate humanitarian plight in South Asia, and creating a hit record about it.

Probably not too many radio programmers or record buyers knew very much about the former East Pakistan until Harrison used his influence to publicise the country’s plight. He had been deeply moved when his friend Ravi Shankar brought to his attention the human disaster in which millions of refugees from the country were starving, because of the effects of the Bhola cyclone of 1970 and the Liberation War.

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At the end of July 1971, Harrison released the “Bangla Desh” single on Apple (the country’s name is now usually spelt as one word, but appeared as two on the disc, and in the subsequent publicity). Thus he brought this humanitarian crisis to the world’s attention as only a world-famous former Beatle could. On the record’s release day, George and Ravi held a press conference to announce their ambitious concert plans for just a few days’ time.

The two Concerts For Bangla Desh took place at Madison Square Garden in New York on August 1, starring Harrison, Ringo StarrEric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Shankar, Badfinger, and many others. A total audience of 40,000 helped generate an estimated $250,000 for famine relief in the country, over $1.5 million in today’s terms.

Listen to the best of George Harrison on Apple Music and Spotify.

Then came the single. Co-produced by George with Phil Spector, it featured Starr and Jim Keltner on drums and other such alumni as Billy Preston and Leon Russell. As a measure of just how little-known the cause was, Billboard misspelt the title as “Bengla Desh” as it entered the Hot 100 at No.67 on August 14 – just two places below Paul McCartney’s early solo offering, and future US No.1, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”

“Bangla Desh” made good progress in the ensuing weeks, although its No.23 peak in September – in the week after McCartney’s single topped the chart there – was slightly modest by comparison with its No.10 showing in the UK. The song also made the Top 10 around much of Europe.

Buy or stream “Bangla Desh” as a bonus track on the 2014 remaster of George’s 1973 album Living In The Material World.

 

 

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. khurshid rajib

    August 14, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Dear Harrison Sir, we the Bangladeshis, have never forgotten your contribution to our nation and will not forget ever. We faithfully speaking, we’ll love you and remember you along with all the great hearts who just support us in the year 1971 till our nation get vanished from this world.

    • Rosa

      August 14, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      It’ so emotional for me tomhear peolple givong thanks George until now, many years after. I love George and Beatles, and to know this Makes me admire him more! Greetings from Southamerica!

  2. Saiful Islam Dipu

    August 15, 2015 at 6:32 am

    We are so grateful to you Mr. Harrison. You will always remain in our heart forever.

    Love and respect from Bangladesh.

  3. David Lewis

    August 15, 2020 at 8:20 am

    A great article, Paul. Most people don’t get the significance of Bangladesh’s struggle for a just post-colonial settlement that gave its people more control over their own future (after domination not only by the British Empire, but also later by the new state of Pakistan). Against the wishes of the US too, since Pakistan was their Cold War ally. As the comments above show, George’s stance is still appreciated by many Bangladeshis today.

    (see also Joan Baez’s song on the same theme)

  4. Patricia Barkley

    August 18, 2021 at 6:31 pm

    George has helped many charities, although this was the first charity concert in the rock world. You were always very giving and the entire world remembers and loves you. You were my favorite Beatle from the age of 12 until now. I am almost 70 years old so it has been a long time. 58 years! Rest In Peace, George. You are truly loved and missed. ❤️❤️

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