Today marks the 30th anniversary of A Gift of Song: The Music for UNICEF Concert, where ABBA debuted the song they had donated, and the song that was to be the group’s next international single, ‘Chiquitita’.
Music for UNICEF was the brainchild of David Frost, Robert Stigwood and the Bee Gees to commemorate the United Nations’ International Year of the Child in 1979. Artists would be invited to donate songs whose royalties would be ceded in perpetuity to benefit UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Music for UNICEF was launched with a gala concert on 9 January 1979, held in the General Assembly hall in the United Nations building in New York, the first time a popular music concert had been held in the venue.
The concert line-up included ABBA, The Bee Gees, Rita Coolidge, John Denver, Earth, Wind and Fire, Andy Gibb, Kris Kristofferson, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart and Donna Summer. Elton John was to perform, but pulled out days before the concert.
The concert opened with a medley of songs by the featured artists, starting with the Bee Gees singing ‘Children of the World’ and ending with an all-star sing-along to ABBA’s early single ‘He Is Your Brother’.
The concert progressed with each act performing the songs to be donated to UNICEF, with each preceding performer presenting the charter to be signed by the next.
Some artists performed fully live, others sang over pre-recording backing, while some, including ABBA, mimed their performance. This was due in part to the nature of the venue not being properly set up for live music performance.
The concert ended with all the performers singing the 1968 Jackie De Shannon hit ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’. Verse vocals were sung by soloists including Barry Gibb, Olivia Newton John and John Denver (among others); ABBA joined in on the chorus but did not get any featured solos.
Other artists such as Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens and Kansas did not perform in the concert but promised songs to Music for UNICEF.
The concert was filmed and shown on NBC in the USA the following night, and shown in dozens of other countries in the following months. An album of selections from the concert was released later in the year.
To date the concert has not been released on DVD or CD. A shame, as it would add much needed dollars to UNICEF’s takings.
It has been said that ‘Chiquitita’ has earned UNICEF over $2 million.
To read articles leading up to the concert and reviews of the concert and television broadcast, go to ABBA World‘s Years section.