George Harrison at the pre-Concert for Bangladesh press conference, 27 July 1971
Photo: New York Daily News
“George Harrison’s Silence Is Golden
By Deborah Wilker, The Arts Column, Sun Sentinel, 1 September 1991
It’s not often that we think of George Harrison as an industry trailblazer. The quiet Beatle was typically, and often unfairly, perceived as just a guy along for the ride all those years ago.
But those of us who admire his significant contributions to popular music know that he is more than a mere image from the ‘60s. With the 20th anniversary this summer of Harrison`s precedent-setting benefit for Bangladesh, it seems as good a time as any to look back on his quiet humanitarianism and vision as well.
Particularly since Harrison will never stage a press conference to tell you about it himself.
When Harrison organized the Aug. 1, 1971, Concert For Bangladesh, it was conceived as a day of laid-back revelry at Madison Square Garden. Hastily and inexpensively put together by Harrison and his buddies, the show was a way to raise public awareness - not just money - for a crisis in a distant land.
Unlike more recent all-star fund-raisers such as USA For Africa, Live Aid and Farm Aid, the Concert For Bangladesh never became a media circus.
The show featured Harrison, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell and others. It was not overrun by the kind of desperate has-beens and never-weres who search for recognition and free TV time at such benefit concerts today.
Nor did the concert’s participants gouge promoters for backstage perks, such as the caviar and champagne that flowed freely and hypocritically through 1984′s We Are The World recording session.
BOON FOR UNICEF
At the end of that day at Madison Square Garden 20 years ago, box office receipts totalled a meager $243,418.50 - a sum turned over in full to UNICEF the following week.
Over the years, that small pot of gold has become a comparative fortune for the people of Bangladesh. Though the concert was not exploited with a big TV deal as is now customary, Harrison wisely created other projects that continue to reap millions for the cause.
The original soundtrack had earned nearly $1.5 million by 1972; a figure that has increased through the years thanks mostly to royalties. There was also a movie that did well, and finally, to commemorate the 20th anniversary, there is now a CD reissue in stores - the first time new copies of the album have been available in years.
As of this year, Harrison`s Bangladesh projects have earned more than $13.5 million for UNICEF, a figure that will only keep multiplying now that the new CD is available.
But almost as important as the benefit this money has wrought, is the unpretentious manner in which Harrison presides over this accomplishment - without fanfare and without public recognition from fans or the industry.
Unlike many celebrities, he has not junked-up his good intentions with endless talk show gigs. Nor has he sat for the ‘important’ interviews with big publications to mark the occasion, or even held a press conference to champion his activities.
He has never milked the PR train once, which must be some kind of show- business landmark.
He has simply gone about his business, and is now planning a new concert tour with Clapton while presumably writing new songs.
NOT HIS ONLY WORTHY CAUSE
Harrison has been involved with many causes over the years, most recently coming to the aid of Romania’s orphans. That project, organized by his wife Olivia, has earned $500,000 strictly from domestic sales of an all-star album, Nobody’s Child. The Harrisons have made several trips to Romania, working tirelessly to improve living conditions for that country’s tiny victims.
In an age when so many youngsters idolize all the wrong celebrities, it’s refreshing to know there’s at least one guitar hero still committed to rock music’s more purposeful contributions.”