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Flashback: Concert for Bangladesh

Ravi Shankar-George Harrison
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

It was 42 years ago today (August 1st, 1971) that George Harrison and friends performed the legendary Concert For Bangladesh at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Harrison organized the shows at the urging of his mentor, sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, who asked Harrison to help raise and awareness for his native, famine stricken East Pakistan, by then renamed Bangladesh.

Harrison sprang into action and rounded up a veritable who’s who in the rock community, including fellow Beatles bandmate Ringo Starr, the semi-reclusive Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Badfinger, and well over a dozen horn players and singers. With the world’s eyes on him, Harrison planned rock’s first global fundraiser, as well as his debut as a solo performer.

Harrison had actually asked his feuding ex-bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney to perform at the concert as well. According to several sources, McCartney initially agreed, but only if Lennon also performed, with the two playing separate solo sets. McCartney, who was days away from announcing the formation of his solo band Wings, eventually backed out, stating that there were too many legal problems yet to be sorted out between him and former Beatles and their then manager Allen Klein for them to appear on the same stage.

Lennon was reportedly all for appearing, until Harrison informed Lennon that only he, and not wife Yoko Ono, was invited to participate. After a long argument with Yoko about whether to perform, Lennon flew to Paris alone and in a rage, missing the entire show, and causing a major rift in Lennon and Harrison’s relationship.

Harrison never formally asked Ringo Starr to play; Starr took it upon himself to tell Harrison he’d be there. Harrison also reportedly turned down offers from Mick Jagger and David Crosby, who asked to appear.

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