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5 Decades Ago The Concert For Bangladesh Changed The Celebrity Fundraiser

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Fifty years ago this weekend, the music world arrived at Madison Square Garden for an event like no other before it, the first major charity concert of its kind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) Bangladesh, Bangladesh...

INSKEEP: The Concert for Bangladesh.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

NPR's first broadcast took place 50 years ago, too, so we're taking a few moments to look back at some of the other big events of 1971. Back then, a civil war, cyclone and floods had created a humanitarian disaster in that part of South Asia. NPR covered it in the early days of All Things Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MIKE WATERS: There are 6 million displaced Bengalese, most of them suffering from malnutrition, cholera and also other diseases that are the result of living under the most dehumanizing conditions.

MCCAMMON: That was former host Mike Waters.

INSKEEP: The situation was personal for Ravi Shankar, the great Indian player of the sitar. His family was from that region. So Shankar reached out to his friend, the former Beatle George Harrison.

GRAHAM THOMPSON: And he resolved to do something about it. And, of course, being a Beatle, he was very, you know, very well-connected. So he called his friends.

MCCAMMON: That's music journalist Graham Thompson. He marveled at the astonishing roster George Harrison was able to attract.

THOMPSON: When you have, you know, a Beatle, two Beatles, in fact, because you have Ringo Starr, as well - you have Bob Dylan.

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BOB DYLAN: (Singing) Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?

THOMPSON: None of these people had played live particularly much in the preceding years, so that was an event in itself. You have a stellar backing band, people like Eric Clapton.

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ERIC CLAPTON: (Playing guitar).

INSKEEP: And, of course, Ravi Shankar.

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RAVI SHANKAR: (Playing sitar).

THOMPSON: It was the first real act of great benevolence by the rock community, I think. You know, it was the first of these big charity concerts that we became very used to later on in the '80s.

MCCAMMON: Like Live Aid in 1985. Producer Bob Geldof reached out to George Harrison ahead of that event. Graham Thompson says Geldof knew Harrison would have good advice about how to handle the money after making a big mistake 14 years earlier.

THOMPSON: The huge problem with Bangladesh was that they hadn't picked the charity before the event. Therefore, all the charitable breaks you would have, all the tax breaks you would have normally with a charitable event didn't apply. There was a huge amount of money that A, went missing and B, went to the taxman.

INSKEEP: What they did raise went to UNICEF, about $240,000 dollars from that weekend alone. And millions more came later from a movie and an album. All of that set a pattern for charity concerts that came in later decades, Live Aid, Farm Aid, on and on, helping millions of people.

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) We lead the people for a day (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.