The Concert for Bangladesh was the first benefit concert of its kind in that it brought together an extraordinary assemblage of major artists collaborating for a common humanitarian cause – setting the precedent that music could be used to serve a higher cause.
The concert sold out Madison Square Garden and along with the Grammy ® Award-winning triple-album boxset, and the feature film, has generated millions of dollars for UNICEF and raised awareness for the organization around the world, as well as among other musicians and their fans. It is therefore acknowledged as the inspiration and forerunner to the major global fundraising events of recent years.
To quote the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “George and his friends were pioneers.”
It was early in April 1971 that news reached me of an unfolding humanitarian crisis in my homeland of Bengal.
My heart went out to the Bengali speaking people of Bangladesh and it was natural for me to reach out and want to help the refugees and the hundreds of thousands of little children.
I expressed my concern to George Harrison. He knew about the turmoil of my mind and a concert to raise funds was initiated. An enormous amount of money was collected and this could never have been achieved without the help of dear George. What happened is now history: it was one of the most moving and intense musical experiences of the century.
Again and again I am asked which concerts stand out in my memory, and it is very difficult to remember all the prominent ones as my career spans over seventy-five years of performances; but the Concert for Bangladesh was very significant to me as the conception of the idea came from me and the people needing aid were very close to my heart; some of them, of course, being distantly related to me.
Ali Akbar Khan and Alla Rakha joined me on stage for the first half and George Harrison played the second half, joined by other eminent musicians including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston and Leon Russell. George closed the concert with “Bangla Desh,” the special song he wrote for the occasion.
As a result, overnight the name of the country Bangladesh came to be known all over the world. Millions of dollars were raised and given to UNICEF who distributed milk, blankets and clothes to refugees.
It touches my heart very deeply to know that 40 years on this event is not to be forgotten, and that with the release of the album digitally, children in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world will continue to be supported by The George Harrison Fund For Unicef. I am sure that the music of this electrifying concert of 1971 will move the listeners even today.