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Tom Petty said George Harrison “invented the idea of rock ‘n’ roll giving back to the people.” George sprung into action when his friend Ravi Shankar asked him for help with the humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh in 1971. With George’s star power and a star-studded lineup, George organized the Concert for Bangladesh and raised thousands of dollars for the Bangladeshi people.

George Harrison and Ravi Shankar at a press conference for the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.
George Harrison and Ravi Shankar | Leonard Detrick/NY Daily News via Getty Images

How George Harrison ‘invented the idea of rock ‘n’ roll giving back to the people’

In late 1971, George’s long-time friend and mentor, Ravi Shankar, told him about the humanitarian crisis in East Pakistan (formerly East Bengal).

A devastating cyclone had killed 300,000 people. After months of inaction from the West Pakistani government, people wanted a change, and Eastern nationals declared themselves the independent country of Bangladesh. It started a bloody war with the Western Pakistani troops committing genocidal acts on the Bangladeshi people.

“I was in a very sad mood, having read all this news,” Shankar told Rolling Stone, “and I said, ‘George, this is the situation, I know it doesn’t concern you, I know you can’t possibly identify.’ But while I talked to George he was very deeply moved … and he said, ‘Yes, I think I’ll be able to do something.'”

George sprang into action. He organized the Concert for Bangladesh over six weeks. Somehow, he wrangled 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 (although Dylan was almost a no-show).

George said (per Rolling Stone), “The Concert for Bangladesh was just a moral stance. These kinds of things have grown over the years, but what we did showed the musicians and people are more humane than politicians.

“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.'”

Tom Petty said George ‘invented the idea of rock ‘n’ roll giving back’

In 2001, Petty and Jeff Lynne, George’s Traveling Wilburys bandmates, inducted him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. During his speech, Petty said, “Years before Live Aid, George invented the idea of rock ‘n’ roll giving back to the people.

The Concert for Bangladesh paved the way for benefit concerts like Live Aid, Farm Aid, and everything in since. He invented benefit concerts, where a star gathers other stars to perform for thousands of fans. However, since the Concert for Bangladesh, the way the funds get to the people has gotten a bit better.


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George told Bob Geldof to get a good accountant before he started Band Aid

According to Rolling Stone, George had valuable advice for Bob Geldof concerning Band Aid, a supergroup full of some of Britain’s musical elite. They recorded the famous Christmas hit, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and all its proceeds went to aid the famine victims of Ethiopia.

Midge Ure, who wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas” with Geldof, said that George spoke from experience when he said to get a good accountant to manage the benefits affairs.

“The Concert [for Bangaldesh]… all of the money didn’t get where it was meant to go,” Ura said. “It was spent on overhead and ad men. So [Harrison’s advice to Geldof] was, ‘Get yourselves good accountants.’ We have the same accountants today who [ensure] we don’t spent a penny on anything. We’ve had no office, no secretaries. We begged, borrowed, and stole telephone lines, space, whatever we could.”

With everyone wanting their share of the profits, not much money actually made it to the Bangladeshi people. So, George needed to warn Geldof to get his affairs in order so as much money as possible reached the Ethiopians. George paved the way, and he continued to throughout his life.