Today in History: August 1

The Concert for Bangladesh (originally, the Concert for Bangla Desh) was held forty-five years ago tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was a fundraiser organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to raise awareness and funds for refugees from the Bangladesh Liberation War.

Two concerts were held, one at 2:30 in the afternoon and one at 8:00 p.m. at the Garden. It was the first superstar-driven rock benefit concert/fundraiser for an international cause. More than 40,000 attended.

Among the star performers were Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, Harrison, Eric Clapton (who was experiencing heroin withdrawal live on stage), Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, and Bob Dylan (who was not performing live on stage very often in this period, but,after the two shows, he is said to have hugged Harrison, lifted him in the air, and declared that he wished they still had a third show to perform).

The concert raised about $250,000, but the live album and film of the concert raised tens of millions of dollars over the subsequent decades. Mistakes were made in the rush to set up the event: the worst was not registering it as a UNICEF benefit concert, which meant that neither the show nor anything related to it was tax-exempt for its organizers. Millions of dollars that could have been spent towards Bangladesh relief was held in escrow accounts until matters were settled.

When Bob Geldof started to organize the Live Aid concerts a decade and a half later, George Harrison shared his hard-won wisdom and this advice saved the organizers time and money, and even though he did not actively participate in that concert, Harrison managed to help Ethiopian famine relief that year.

Harrison continued his charitable efforts for the rest of his life, and his widow, Olivia, established the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF in recent years as a successor to the Concert. Sales of the film and album continue to support this fund, and many of its efforts are directed to help people in Bangladesh specifically.

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The first session for Aretha Franklin’s first jazz/R&B album, “Aretha,” was held on this date in 1960. John Hammond, credited with “discovering” her, produced. The tracks from this session that appeared on the finished album are “Over the Rainbow,” “Love Is the Only Thing,” “Right Now,” “Today I Sing the Blues.”

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Sviatoslav Richter died 19 years ago today.

There are many videos available online of the great pianist Sviatoslav Richter at work. In the “comments” section under many of the Richter videos one will often find a person complaining or simply stating that the recording is “fake” or appears to them to be “speeded up.” In this age of photo editing and video editing software, this era in which we assume lies are being told and fakery is afoot, it is something of a backwards compliment the writers are paying the memory of the pianist. Anyone who could cover the keyboard that completely, that quickly, could not have been real. He could, he did, and he was.

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Herman Melville was born on this date in 1819. Geoffrey Holder was born in 1930 on this date. Dom DeLuise was born 83 years ago today. Jerry Garcia was born 74 years ago today. Taylor Negron would be 59 today.

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Ramblin’ Jack Elliott is 85 today. Senator Al D’Amato is 79. Robert Cray is 63. Chuck D is 56. Coolio is 53. Sam Mendes is 51. Dhani Harrison (son of George and Olivia) is 38.

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