In an effort to call attention to the poverty, malnutrition and lack of access to quality education affecting millions of children throughout the developing world, the United Nations proclaimed 1979 the “International Year of the Child.”
To publicize the proclamation and raise money for UNICEF—the United Nation’s Children’s Fund—plans were laid for a concert fundraiser featuring dozens of leading lights of late-’70s pop.
Staged in the U.N. General Assembly Hall in New York City on January 9, 1979, the show was subsequently broadcast around the world as “The Music for UNICEF Concert: A Gift of Song.”
The prime movers behind the Music for UNICEF concert were the Bee Gees, their manager Robert Stigwood and the British television host David Frost, of Frost-Nixon fame.
The 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, which raised millions for UNICEF through ticket sales and royalties from the concert film and album, provided the template that the Bee Gees et al. planned to follow, with an important, added twist.
The organizers of the 1979 concert asked all participating stars to donate to UNICEF the royalties from the song they performed during the show. Another key difference between the two concerts was a rather dramatic difference in musical esthetics.
The Concert for Bangladesh featured Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton performing songs like “Bangla Dun,” “My Sweet Lord” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The Music for UNICEF concert, on the other hand, featured ABBA, Andy Gibb and Rod Stewart singing songs like “Chiquita,” “I Go for You” and, most improbably considering the occasion, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
Suffice it to say that when viewed with the benefit of hindsight, there is a very strong only-in-1979 vibe about the Music for UNICEF concert: John Denver and Donna Summer on the same stage; Henry Winkler (the Fonz) introducing Rod Stewart; and, most charmingly, the late Gilda Radner introducing “Benny-Bror-Goran-Andersson-Bjorn-Christian-Ulvaeus-Agnetha-Ase-Anna-Faltskog-Ulvaeus-Anni-Frida-Lyngstad. Or to put it another way – ABBA!”
It is not clear exactly how much money the Music for UNICEF concert actually raised, or whether all of the participating artists actually signed over all future royalties on the songs they performed. At the very least, the Bee Gees’ contribution to the effort, “Too Much Heaven,” would go on to be a #1 pop hit and raise more than $7 million for the charitable programs of UNICEF.