What It Means to Be a Beatle: George Harrison and the Concert for Bangladesh
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What It Means to Be a Beatle: George Harrison and the Concert for Bangladesh

After releasing the single “Bangla Desh,” George set out to organize The Concert for Bangladesh, two concert performances which came to fruition five weeks later, held at noon and 7pm on Sunday, August 1st, 1971, ultimately performing for a total of 40,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It featured a true “super group” of performers that included George and Beatle buddy Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and the entire Apple Record band, Badfinger--all of whom responded to George’s call for support.

By the time the Beatles officially called it quits in 1970, George Harrison’s affinity for the East was well known. 

Although John and Paul had denounced the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings shortly after returning from India in 1968, where they’d attended an advanced Transcendental Meditation training session at his ashram, George had already come to embrace Indian culture and Hinduism, and was helping expand Western awareness of the sitar and the Hare Krishna movement through his music.  So when he released the single “Bangla Desh” in 1971 to draw awareness to the plight of the people of Bangladesh, it came as little surprise to his mountain of fans.

As George tells it, it was fellow musician and India native Ravi Shankar who came to George asking that he use his influence to help make people aware of the devastation taking place in Bangladesh.  In addition to East Pakistan’s struggle to become the separate state from Bangladesh during the Bangladesh Liberation War, the 1970 Bhola cyclone had brought torrential rains causing devastating floods resulting in tens of thousands of people living in abject poverty without food or clean water.  Ravi explained that his country was about to die if the world did not come to its aid.

After releasing the single “Bangla Desh,” George then set out to organize The Concert for Bangladesh, two concert performances that came to fruition five weeks later, held at noon and 7pm on Sunday, August 1st, 1971, ultimately performing for a total of 40,000 people at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  It featured a true “super group” of performers that included George and Beatle buddy Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and the entire Apple Record band, Badfinger--all of whom responded to George’s call for support.  

Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan opened the concert with a recital of Indian music consisting of the dhun "Bangla Dhun,” after which Harrison started off the rock portion of teh show with a string of songs from his hit album, All Things Must Pass, backed by two drummers (Ringo and Jim Keltner), Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, two lead guitarists (Clapton and Jesse Ed Davis), Badfinger on rhythm guitars and tambourine, a six-piece horn section, and a choir of backing vocalists.

These unprecedented Madison Square Garden shows marked the first live performances of Harrison's Beatle classics "While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” "Here Comes the Sun," and "Something,” and for his global double-sided hit solo single, "My Sweet Lord.” 

The now reclusive Dylan did "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (his first stage appearance since the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1969) . . . 

 . . . Leon Russell did an extraordinary performance of the Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Young Blood” . . .

 . . . followed by a performance by Billy Preston, and accompanied by one of the most extraordinary assemblages of musicans ever on one stage, including Klaus Voormann, renown session drummer Jim Keltner, Badfinger, Delaney, Bonnie and Friends/ Derek and the Dominoes bassist Carl Radle, session guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, and a horn section organized by Jim Horn.  Don Preston, Don Nix and a dozen back-up singers were brought in by Russell, who directed the stage band.  Midway through, Ringo performed his super hit, “It Don’t Come Easy."

Performance Line-Up:

 "Wah-Wah" (George)

 "Something" (George)

 "Awaiting on You All" (George)

 "That's the Way God Planned It" (Billy Preston)

 "It Don't Come Easy" (Ringo)

 "Beware of Darkness" (George)

 "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (George)

 "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (Leon Russell)

 "Young Blood" (Leon Russell)

 "Here Comes the Sun" (George)

 "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (Dylan)

 "Blowin' in the Wind" (Dylan)

 "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" (Dylan)

 "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" (Dylan)

 "Just Like a Woman" (Dylan)

 "Hear Me Lord" (George)

 "My Sweet Lord" (George)

 "Bangla Desh" (George)

Both the afternoon and evening shows were filmed and recorded for an album, with Phil Spector overseeing sound production. The film, released in 1972, combined footage from both shows with George's preference of the performances.  The opening of the film features footage from a press conference in which Harrison and Shankar announce the concert and its purpose.  In it, Harrison is asked by a reporter, "With all the enormous problems in the world, how did you happen to choose this one to do something about?"  "Because I was asked by a friend if I would help, you know, that's all," he replies.

Decades later, Ravi was quoted as saying, "In one day, the whole world knew the name of Bangladesh.  It was a fantastic occasion, and I think it was the first of its kind." 

A testament to the power of what it means to be a Beatle, not only was this the second-greatest line-up of musicians ever on one stage in history (second only to Woodstock), the concert raised $243,418.51 for Bangladesh relief, which was administered by UNICEF and resulted in the bestselling, boxed three-record-set live album released later in 1971, as well as a concert film that opened in theaters in the Spring of 1972 (and later released for home video) which continue to aid the people of Bangladesh through the UNICEF organization. (Last year marked the 40th anniversary of The Concert for Bangladesh.) 

George's Supergroup:

George Harrison – vocals, electric and acoustic guitars

Ringo Starr – vocals, drums, tambourine

Leon Russell – vocals, piano, bass guitar

Billy Preston – vocals, organ

Eric Clapton – electric guitar

Bob Dylan – vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica

Klaus Voorman - bass

Jim Keltner – drums

Badfinger – acoustic guitars, tambourine Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Joey Molland and Mike Gibbins (percussion)

Jesse Ed Davis – electric guitar

Don Preston – backing vocals; vocals, electric guitar (on Leon Russell's medley only)

Carl Radle – bass (on Leon Russell's medley only)

The Hollywood Horns: Jim Horn, Allan Beutler, Chuck Findley, Jackie Kelso, Lou McCreary, Ollie Mitchell

Back-up vocalists: Don Nix, Jo Green, Jeanie Greene, Marlin Greene, Dolores Hall, Claudia Linnear, Jack Royerton

References:

http://theconcertforbangladesh.com/

Olivia Harrison, George Harrison: Living in the Material World

George Harrison, I Me Mine

Johnston, D. "Bangladesh: The Benefit That Almost Wasn't." Los Angeles Times

Thumb via: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_rtY-2ZOt8fM/S0UjCoreYpI/AAAAAAAAJCk/jN_iXOUE8GE/s1600/,0000000.jpg with my appreciation

Visit JAMES R COFFEY WRITING SERVICES AND RESOURCE CENTER for more information

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Comments (6)

Really enjoyed these wonderful songs. Thanks friend for the well written presentation

Ranked #1 in Music

My pleasure, my friend.

Awesome!

Ranked #1 in Music

Glad you enjoyed it, Christy.

Ranked #2 in Music

The concert was very rare, George rarely enjoyed doing such, especially during their touring days as the Beatles. I especially like George's improvised guitar solo on Something, thanks for the read.

Very nice James, as always! Cheers Jaz

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