“The Concert for Bangladesh” were actually 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 Bangladesh atrocities. The concerts were followed by a 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.