George Harrison Said He Was Bold Enough to Do the Concert for Bangladesh Because of John Lennon’s Influence

In 1971, Ravi Shankar and his friend, George Harrison, organized the Concert for Bangladesh. The benefit concert was the first of its kind and earned thousands.

However, the Concert for Bangladesh might not have happened without the influence of George’s former bandmate, John Lennon.

George Harrison performing at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.
George Harrison performing at the Concert for Bangladesh | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

George Harrison organized the Concert for Bangladesh to help his friend Ravi Shankar

In late 1971, Shankar told George about the humanitarian crisis in East Pakistan (formerly East Bengal).

A devastating cyclone had killed 500,000 people. After months of inaction from the West Pakistani government, people wanted a change. Eastern nationals declared themselves the independent country of Bangladesh. It started a bloody war. The Western Pakistani troops committed genocidal acts on the Bangladeshi people.

In 1997, Shankar told John Fugelsang at VH1 (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters) that he’d started planning a benefit concert himself. He only expected to raise about 20 to 30 thousand dollars.

“George happened to be in Los Angeles at that time, and he saw how unhappy I was, and I told him,” Shankar told Fugelsang. “He said, ‘That’s nothing, let’s do something big,’ and immediately he, like magic, you know, he phoned up, fixed Madison Square Garden and all his friends, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and it was magic really.”

George might not have felt confident enough to help Shankar organize the benefit concert without the influence of his former bandmate.

George said John Lennon gave him the confidence to organize the Concert for Bangladesh

The former Beatle told Fugelsang that once he read more about what was happening in Bangladesh, he wanted to help. However, his help had to happen quickly.

“The more I read about it and understood what was going on, I thought, ‘Well, we’ve just got to do something,’ and it had to be very quickly,” George said. “And what we did, really, was only to point it out. That’s what I felt.

Fugelsang added, “When you think about all the talent you assembled and all the money you raised for the album, it was a very controversial thing in Bangladesh. John Lennon used to get in trouble all the time for his activism. Did anyone tell you, you know, ‘It’s a little bit hot, don’t go there’? Were you discouraged at all by people for pursuing it?”

George said he wasn’t put off being an activist because John had shown him how to be bold.

“No, not really,” he replied. “I think that was one of the things that I developed, just by being in the Beatles, was being bold. And I think John had a lot to do with that, you know, cause John Lennon, you know, if he felt something strongly, he just did it. And you know, I picked up a lot of that by being a friend of John’s. Just that attitude of, ‘Well, we’ll just go for it, just do it.'”

George did go for it. In six weeks, he organized the Concert for Bangladesh, setting up a star-studded lineup for two shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The bill included Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Badfinger, and Bob Dylan.

George said (per Rolling Stone), “The Concert for Bangladesh was just a moral stance… Today, people accept the commitment rock ‘n’ roll musicians have when they perform for a charity. When I did it, they said things like, ‘He’s only doing this to be nice.'”

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John inspired another aspect of the benefit concert

George continued to tell Fugelsang that John influenced another element of the Concert for Bangladesh.

“It was just pure adrenaline, and, you know, it was very lucky that it came off because all musicians weren’t there for rehearsal,” George said. “We rehearsed bits and pieces with different people, but we didn’t have everybody all on at one time until the show itself.

“And so we were just very lucky, really, that it all came together. When Ravi said to me … you know, he wanted me and Peter Sellers to come and introduce the show, and he could make $25,000. Straightaway I thought of the John Lennon aspect of it, which was: film it, and make a record of it, and, you know, let’s make a million dollars…

“And I think that boldness was by having that fame, by learning through the Beatles, that you get a bit more clout if you’re well known.”

The Concert for Bangladesh proved to be one of the only times George used his fame to promote something he wanted. However, it wasn’t to benefit himself; it was to help others.