In 1971, just a year after the break-up of the Beatles, George Harrison took up a cause. Having heard of the great loss of lives due to a famine in East Pakistan which followed a brutal civil war, Harrison organized two concerts at Madison Square Garden to raise international awareness and fund relief efforts for refugees. The “Concert for Bangladesh” was the first-ever benefit concert of its kind and featured multiple artists including fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and the band Badfinger. In addition, Harrison’s friend and mentor Ravi Shankar performed an opening set of Indian classical music. The shows were followed by a bestselling live album and a concert documentary. It was a landmark effort which became a blueprint for what I call “concert activism” in which pop and rock stars come together for a cause. There have been countless similar events since.
One of the many pleasures I have as a college professor is the opportunity to create new courses. Once in a while we can come up with an elective that plays to our own interests and expertise. “Pop, Rock and Public Relations” is a “special topics” course–meaning it can only be offered once or twice–and will run this January as a two-week, winter session graduate-level class. Students will examine how rock and pop artists have used their fame to draw attention to public policy issues from the groundbreaking “Concert for Bangladesh” to “Live Aid,” “Farm Aid” and concerts on behalf of 9/11, Sandy relief, and many others. The course will also explore social media’s immense impact on popular artists’ approach to fame, publicity and public perception. We’ll discuss how stars including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Madonna, Justin Bieber and so many others suffered and later emerged from self-inflicted PR controversies.
“Pop, Rock and Public Relations” is open to all Hofstra University graduate students and seniors, and there’s still time to register. It’ll be an interesting and entertaining look at how PR can have significant impact when popular culture meets a cause. Your thoughts?