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George Harrison: Humanitarian

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Fully 14 years before Live Aid, on 1 August, 1971, George Harrison, his friend and mentor Ravi Shankar and a host of stars pulled off something that had never been achieved, or even attempted before: the two Concerts For Bangla Desh at Madison Square Garden in New York.

George had been deeply moved when Shankar had brought to his attention the plight of millions of starving refugees of the former East Pakistan, suffering the effects of the Bhola cyclone of 1970 and the Liberation War in the country. Five days earlier, on July 27, he had released his single ‘Bangla Desh’ on the Apple label, bringing this humanitarian crisis to the world’s attention as only a world-famous former Beatle could. That same day, he and Shankar held a press conference to announce their ambitious concert plans for just a few days’ time.

The track, co-produced by George with Phil Spector, featured Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner on drums and other such alumni as Billy Preston and Leon Russell. It went to No. 10 in the UK and No. 23 in the US, and made the top ten around much of Europe.

The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then

On August 1,after rehearsals in New York, the concerts took place at 2.30pm and 8pm. They played to a total of 40,000 people, who were treated to a spectacular bill with the above-mentioned players from the single, the supergroup featured Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Shankar, Hindustani musician Ali Akbar Khan, Klaus Voorman, Bobby Whitlock, Jesse Ed Davies, Carl Radle and the Apple-signed hitmakers Badfinger.

One of many historic aspects of the shows was that they were Harrison’s first live appearances for a paying audience since the Beatles’ final concert at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, in 1966. The concerts produced a live album, a three-disc set and the Apple Films documentary of the occasion that became a cinematic release the following year. The album entered the Billboard chart on 8 January 1972 and went to No.2 on the US chart, where it spent 6 weeks, never quite making it to the top spot.

The fundraisers generated an estimated $250,000 for famine relief in the country, close to $1.5 million in today’s terms. The concert was released as a DVD in 2005, and continues (along with the album) to raise funds for what is now called the George Harrison Fund For UNICEF.

“Harrison & Friends Dish Out Super Concert For Pakistan Aid” was the headline for Billboard magazine’s news story in the August 14 issue. “Almost all of the music reflected what must have been the feelings of each musician who gave his time and tremendous efforts for free, to help a helpless country,” wrote Bob Glassenberg.

In 2006, George’s widow Olivia attended a ceremony in which Madison Square Garden marked the 35th anniversary of the concerts by installing a permanent plaque in the arena’s Walk of Fame. Today we have become so used to artists supporting causes with charity concerts, charity recordings, and in many other ways, and it is wonderful that people do this kind of thing. However, George was way ahead of the curve and his humanitarian work was groundbreaking and he has been the inspiration for many that have followed. George Harrison truly was a humanitarian.

The 16LP The George Harrison Vinyl Collection is out now and can be ordered here.

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  1. Cara Carlson-Roberts

    August 1, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Just like Woodstock, I was in New York when this concert happened. Again, flat broke, I didn’t get to see it. However, more to the point, the greatest band to ever come our way, were also unique individuals promoting peace, awareness of world hunger, vegetarian lifestyles , etc. I love them all, still. Thanks George and Ringo for this particular effort.

  2. Frank Giancamilli

    August 1, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    George Harrison is one of four Genius named the BEATLES there will never ever be a group that changed the musc world like the BEATLES did This was a life changing experience and I am glad I was there to experience it first hand

  3. Mike Marinaro

    August 2, 2014 at 1:29 am

    Little known fact: The US military banned the sale of the album on military bases.

    • Scepter

      March 3, 2015 at 5:48 pm

      Where did you get that information??? So sorry, not true.

    • Liz

      August 1, 2015 at 3:11 pm


  4. Tamim

    August 2, 2014 at 5:27 am

    You will always be remembered on the 1st of August georgy.Bangladeshis will never forget you..

  5. Angela gray

    August 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for the music! Legends live on!!

  6. Ben

    August 2, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    What an amazing experience it was. We had graduated that year from HS and in august decided to hitchhike to NYC to see the concert which both the afternoon and evening shows were sold out. We stayed with our art teachers sister who had a flat in the city and headed over and got tickets from a scalper. 100 bucks each THEN for the evening show…so we thought. We are in a bus heading back to the apartment and I safely tucked my ticket away David kept holding his and I said to him you better put that away so you don’t lose it… So he said I want to hang on to it as he looks at it he noticed it is for the AFTERNOON show!! So we jumped another bus and headed back to Madison square just in time to catch that show!! Had he put that ticket away we would have missed a pinnacle moment in our lives. We walked in just as Ravi Shankar was being introduced. What a grand experience that was for a couple of small town boys!

    • Joe

      March 3, 2015 at 8:47 pm

      Great story Ben. I only wish I could have there.

  7. Israel Herrera (@IsraelH33828113)

    August 2, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    mi concierto de rock favorito,porque tiene que ver con la solidaridad humana, bueno y la calidad de los intervinientes, ejecutando versiones únicas de sus canciones, como los acordes de Clapton a my guitar gentil weeps en contrapunteo con Harrison,una linda canción..Bob Dylan en una brillante actuación..un vate gringo que todos respetan por su honestidad literaria y su alto sentido crítico de la realidad, además la original interpretación de León Russel de Jumping Jack flash le dá un toque especial a la creación de los Rolling Stones, ah es mi favorito por q interpretan esa canción tan bonita como My Sweet lord Clapton le dá una textura especial con el dedal, en realidad todas las interpretaciones son formidables, se ve que hubo dedicación y amor en la ejecución , nada fué hecho a la fuácata , adems del ambiente previo que le dá cierto toque místico del virtuoso músico Ravi Shankar una lumbrera de la música indú.En realidad es un concierto maravilloso..lo he visto muchas veces de cabo a rabo y no me canso de verlo, en realidad es algo excepcional lo que hizo George Harrison..un saludo y reconocimiento a la memoria de este gran ser humano e insigne músico..

  8. rahat

    August 2, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    we”ll never forget are like one of our freedom fighter…Joy Bangla Joy Bangobondhu!!

  9. Neil Tannenbaum

    August 2, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Things were much better back then!

  10. ARPITA

    August 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Salute you…..we’ll never forget you…

  11. jose moreira

    January 10, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    vi o concerto no rivoli no porto com a minha namorada e mulher nunca vou esquecer


    January 10, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    It would be great if we can get a super duper deluxe bangla desh box set including BOTH shows on dvd(afternoon & evening) as well as the companion cd set for both shows as well – a new big color photo book inside too


    January 10, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Mi músico favorito,George Harrison,después de Amadeus.

  14. Ian Richardson

    January 10, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    i bought this album when it came out and still have it I also have the DVD great job George turned me onto leon a great thing to do for the suffering people that’s George through and through

  15. Walter Slavin

    January 11, 2015 at 1:50 am

    A great cocert and preview of the greatest rock concert – LiveAid which happened I believe in 1986. In LiveAid 2 concerts in one with England and one in Philly I think it was. Phil Collins played in England then immediately flew to to the US to play there. I can’t even remember how many great acts performed that day but anybody who was a rock artist performed to raise millions to help famine relief in Africa.

  16. Doug Coulstring

    March 23, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Bob Geldof wasn’t the first,or we are the world,or Bono it was the quiet Beatle who showed musicians what they could achieve to make the world a better plac.The concert also had the greatest line EVER when Ravi Shankar thanked the audience for their applause for tuning and graciously hoped they would like the music as much.Finest line EVER.

    • Liz

      August 1, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      Bob Geldof was showered with awards for his benefit activities, while he was Irish and didn’t come even near to George’s talent, cultural importance or financial contribution to the UK. A lot of people got the title without properly deserving it,too! What about George? He did right to refuse the O.B.E. in 2000!

  17. Jimmy de Jesus

    March 24, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Among the four members of the Beatles George is the man with golden hearth

  18. Terri Mullenix-Jackson

    August 1, 2015 at 10:40 am

    A small correction: it was Jesse Ed Davis, not Jesse David, who played at the concert. Jesse Ed Davis was a fine guitarist who played on the albums of many of the greatest rock artists of his day.

  19. Sara

    August 1, 2015 at 11:47 am

    St. George of Liverpool is apropos

  20. Jen

    August 1, 2015 at 11:47 am

    I don’t wanna be that guy but ‘Bangla Desh’ really…

  21. elija

    August 1, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    its jesse ed davis, nor jesse david, very poor research!!!

  22. Samuel Chamberlain

    August 1, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    I’m from DownUnder Australia and we raised money at School for Bangladesh and I bought that Album until some nasty Person stole it from me many years later. That Album meant so much to me and I still feel the pain !! MY SWEET LORD AND WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS ,such profound and evocative pieces. One Planet One People -Give Peace a Chance !
    Sam,Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia.

  23. Robert Angell

    August 1, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    The musicians all except one are correct. You have called Jessie Ed Davies “Jesse David” he has since passed and was a Tulsa Session player with Leon Russel. Just saying.

  24. Paulo Cézar da Paz

    August 1, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    While my guitar gently weeps… how I miss that time!

  25. yuriy

    August 1, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    It will always keep with us as long as we are alive….


    August 3, 2015 at 10:04 pm


  27. Derrisk

    August 14, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    I have a copy of this LP record and the book that goes with it. If anyone is interested please make me a cash offer. I am in South Africa.

  28. Rita Snyder

    November 16, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Bobby Whitlock did not play at this concert…..

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The Beatles Red and Blue Boxsets
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