Birth of Celebrity Benefit Concert

George Harrison was one of the biggest rock stars on the planet in 1971, but his voice was brave as he lent his celebrity to discuss the global crisis. Sit at a press conference to open a performance film, Bangladesh ConcertHe was asked why he made a profit for refugees from East Pakistan at the time in all the crises of the world.

Harrison simply replied, “I was asked for help by a friend, and that’s it,” in a tone that reflected why he was called a “quiet beetle.”

The friend was the legendary Indian musician Ravi Shankar.

They held an all-star concert at Madison Square Garden in New York on August 1, 1971 to help Bengal refugees in India fleeing violence. Its immediate and lasting effects were far greater than Harrison’s calm attitude implied. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, pop artists became more than just entertainers. This was the first major pop music event to benefit major human rights issues.

The impact of the two sold-out performances of the Bangladesh Concert (and the accompanying album and film) set the tone for the subsequent All-Star Charity event. Some musician organizers build their models in their own way and use new tools such as social media to raise awareness of the myriad causes. However, key performances have the ability to attract more attention and keep viewers longer than tweets, TikToks, and Facebook posts.

Rally fan base

Perhaps most importantly, the Bangladesh Concert showed that celebrities could use their fan base to draw the western audience more attention to geographically distant issues.

At that time, the plight of South Asia was dire. In the spring of 1971, Pakistani troops suppressed the democratic Bengal movement for autonomy in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), killing hundreds of thousands. Millions more have fled to Indian refugee camps. Ravi Shanker, a Bengali leader in Harrison’s Indian sitar, told the guitarist about the situation.

Shanker acknowledges the concert’s achievements in raising awareness of this conflict. “Overnight, everyone knew the names of Bangladesh around the world,” he said on a 2005 DVD. Bangladesh Concert Documentary of 1972. “Because it appeared in every newspaper everywhere, so it was of great value.”

Harrison and Shanker stated that their motives were not political, but Gary J. Bus’s historical account was that they caused a startle between the Pakistani junta and its implementers in the United States. .. Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Forgotten Massacre.. Pakistani officials were angry at the attention that concerts, albums and Harrison’s “Bangladesh” singles brought to their lasting atrocities.

President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger — Those who evaded U.S. military aid cutoffs and licensed weapons to Pakistan during a short war with India Beyond the situation — I was regretted again. Bass reported that Nixon personally railed with concert funding to go to the “Terrible Indians.”

Look deeper

Musicians who have held charity events since the Bangladesh Concert investigated the causes of the crisis they are tackling. Jamie Drummond co-founded the Global Poverty Eradication Foundation ONE With Irish rock singer Bono. He was headlined by a live-aid event in the mid-1980s (inspired by Harrison’s concert, headlined by a huge number of stars from Queen to Madonna), with event organizers Bob Geldof and U2 stars internationally. He said he began to look at traditional debt relief. Dramondo showed how countries like Ethiopia couldn’t buy the right food when they crushed their international financial obligations.

“Concerts, showbiz for good reason have gone so far, funding has gone so far, but you have to reach the structural cause of the problem,” Dramondo said. “It requires a little more political involvement.”

Bob Ferguson, who manages Oxfam’s creative alliance and music outreach, Providing information and education on all these issues was the key to his organizational partnership for COVID bailouts with celebrities such as Australian singer Courtney Barnett and pop band Lucius.

“The heaviest part of my job is getting people to know exactly what’s going on,” Ferguson said. “Our artists want to be fully aware of everything they are involved with. The luxury of being able to connect artists with experts in this field. The artist wanted to know about our work in Darfur, so in 15 minutes I was able to connect her with someone in a refugee camp in Darfur. “

It is also important for organizations like ONE to work with everyone, from the American Conservatives to the French Socialist Party, to find common ground on issues such as COVID mitigation, climate change and girls’ education for nonpartisan organizations. is.

“Compromise doesn’t have to be a dirty word,” Dramondo said. “Sometimes the best ideas come from conflicts between different things. [political] Appears on the sides and in the middle. Debt forgiveness and the historic AIDS initiative have come true thanks to bipartisan American leadership. “

Watch out for your ego — and pay attention to the details

Harrison’s tender personality has set an example for Western musicians who want to describe themselves as using their fame for greater benefit. This is not always the case in a huge ego-filled industry. Some use a charitable look just to hone their reputation.

According to Ferguson, Oxfam realized that some artists may not have altruistic goals when approaching the organization. “We have to squeeze our feet to sniff out opportunities to restore the artist’s reputation, rather than help,” he said. “It doesn’t happen often, but it does. So there’s a judging process to make sure you’re working with people who want to work with us. Today’s music fans You can smell marketing ideas and projects. “

Musicians who follow Harrison’s model should also be aware of the less attractive bureaucratic chores associated with large amounts of funding and distribution. His concert raised more than $ 243,000 for UNICEF, but the U.S. Internal Revenue Service raised millions of dollars from subsequent record sales as the event organizers did not apply for non-profit status. Withheld (this issue has been resolved). Mr. Dramondo said that artist-run charities should always take such operational aspects of financing seriously.

And the impact can be enormous.For Bangladesh concerts, the heritage remains worldwide to this day UNICEF George Harrison Foundation. “It doesn’t make sense to get the showbiz right and then actually deliver what you did wrong,” says Dramondo. “The good news is that if you’re a celebrity in the area, more people want to help you than ever before. Make sure you’re influential in philanthropy and advocacy now. The number of domestic industries that we support is increasing. “

The right music, the right tone

Harrison promoted ticket sales for Bangladesh concerts with friends from British and American rock stars, but Shanker’s opening performance meant that the music of the affected area was portrayed. Such inclusion is important to show that people’s culture is always far more than their sacrifice. Dramondo said he aims to include more African musicians, African athletes and movie stars in events focused on the African continent.

A Tibetan musician who performed at the Tibetan House Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall in New York last year is an example of such involvement. According to Ferguson, its diversity also influences the active participation of the audience. He added that this involvement could take place at all levels, from signing petitions to joining an organization.

“The Tibetan house concert in Carnegie began with a long chanting prayer from the monks,” Ferguson said. “So you knew on the spot that this was true, not just for interesting music, but ready to take action.”

Aaron Cohen is the author of Move Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (University of Chicago Press) and amazing Grace (Bloomsbury). He teaches the humanities and English composition at City College in Chicago and regularly writes about the arts of publications such as: Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader When Downbeat..

Copyright 2021 NPR. For more information, please visit https://www.npr.org.

Birth of Celebrity Benefit Concert

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