Saturday, 1 August 2015

44 YEARS AGO: THE CONCERT FOR BANGLA DESH

The Concert for Bangladesh (or Bangla Desh, as the country was originally spelled) was the name for two benefit concerts organised by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, held at 2.30 and 8 pm on Sunday, 1 August 1971, playing to a total of 40,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The shows were organised to raise international awareness and fund relief efforts for refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), following the Bangladesh Liberation War-related genocide. The concerts were followed by a bestselling live album, a boxed three-record set, and Apple Films' concert documentary, which opened in cinemas in the spring of 1972.

The event was the first-ever benefit concert of such a magnitude and featured a supergroup of performers that included Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and the band Badfinger. In addition, Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan – both of whom had ancestral roots in Bangladesh – performed an opening set of Indian classical music. Decades later, Shankar would say of the overwhelming success of the event: "In one day, the whole world knew the name of Bangladesh. It was a fantastic occasion ..."

The concerts raised close to US$250,000 for Bangladesh relief, which was administered by UNICEF. Although the project was subsequently marred by financial problems – a result of the pioneering nature of the venture – the Concert for Bangladesh is recognised as a highly successful and influential humanitarian aid project, generating both awareness and considerable funds as well as providing valuable lessons and inspiration for projects that followed, notably Live Aid. By 1985, through revenue raised from the Concert for Bangladesh live album and film, an estimated $12 million had been sent to Bangladesh in relief.
Sales of the live album and DVD release of the film continue to benefit the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

The two Madison Square Garden shows raised US$243,418.50, which was given to UNICEF to administer on 12 August 1971.By December, Capitol Records presented a cheque to Apple Corps for around $3,750,000 for advance sales of the Concert for Bangladesh live album.

Aside from complaints regarding the high retail price for the three-record set, particularly in Britain– a result of the government's refusal to waive its tax surcharge – controversy soon surrounded the project's fundraising.Because the event had not been registered as a UNICEF benefit beforehand, and was therefore not granted tax-exempt status – the blame for which Harrison lay squarely at Klein's feet most of the money generated was held in an Internal Revenue Service escrow account for ten years. In interview with Derek Taylor for his autobiography in the late 1970s, Harrison put this figure at somewhere between $8 million and $10 million.Before then, in early 1972, New York magazine reported that some of the proceeds remained unaccounted for and had found their way into Klein's accounts.Klein responded by suing the magazine for $150 million in damages, and although the suit was later withdrawn, the accusations attracted unwelcome scrutiny at a time when questions were also being asked about Klein's mismanagement of The Beatles' finances.That year, an estimated $2 million had gone to the refugees via UNICEF before the IRS audit of Apple got under way; finally, in 1981, $8.8 million was added to that total following the audit.

By June 1985, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, nearly $12 million had been sent to Bangladesh for relief.Around this time, Harrison would give Bob Geldof "meticulous advice" to help ensure that Live Aid's estimated £50 million found its way, as intended, to victims of the Ethiopian famine.
Speaking in the 1990s, Harrison said of the Bangladesh relief effort: "Now it's all settled and the UN own the rights to it themselves, and I think there's been about 45 million dollars made." Sales of the DVD and CD of the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh continue to benefit the cause,now known as the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.

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