It will take at least a few months to adequately assess the initial impact of the “A Gift Of Song - The Music For UNICEF” program which was presented in concert in the General Assembly chambers at the United Nations last Tuesday night (8th of January, 1979) and telecast the following night on a 90-minute NBC-TV show, but it is already apparent that the concept was a huge success in many ways.
The idea, first promulgated last Spring by Robert Stigwood, David Frost and The Bee Gees – Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb – for singers and songwriters to donate the time to UNICEF for 1979’s Year Of The Child, and in perpetuity via royalty collections, proved a potent one as contributions came in from The Bee Gees, Rita Coolidge & Kris Kristofferson, ABBA, John Denver, Earth, Wind & Fire, Andy Gibb, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart and Donna Summer.
While time on the vidspec was limited, it was hoped that other artists would take the lead and offer songs and that the concept would yield as much as $100,000,000 in time.
Although contracts have not been signed and the UNICEF officials do not want to make announcements before they are, it was learned that others have already come forward, including Fleetwood Mac, whose Stevie Nicks’ composition, Beautiful Child, on their forthcoming LP, is to be a present. Others to be announced shortly include donations from Cat Stevens and Kansas.
At the taping sessions, in addition to performances of the songs which had been presented to UNICEF, there were opening and closing medleys by the stellar musical line-up, plus duets by Kristofferson and Stewart, which didn’t make the air when 22 minutes had to be cut, Summer and Coolidge and Newton-John and Andy Gibb.
While the UN chamber is not geared to a concert presentation, director Marty Pasetta’s use of two stages and other locations was satisfactory. On the air, it all worked a lot better.
Using tapes of the May, 1977, press conference in which the idea was first put forward, Pasetta cut from The Bee Gees’ saying they hoped whatever song they selected for a gift would be a number one, to emcee Frost saying that the tune, Too Much Heaven, was just that.
Other songs contributed, and to be administered worldwide by Chappel at cost, included a pair of strong former releases, Earth, Wind & Fire’s bestselling That’s The Way Of The World, and Denver’s Rhymes And Reasons.
New material included Chiquitita, by ABBA; Fallen Angels, by Kristofferson & Coolidge; I Go For You, by Andy Gibb; The Key, by Olivia Newton-John, in its world preem performance; and Mimi’s Song, by Donna Summer. Rod Stewart, in a last minute shift, gave Da Ya Think I’m Sexy instead of Maggie May.
Audience, geared to live presentations, was somewhat disappointed when three of the acts, ABBA, The Bee Gees and Earth, Wind & Fire, lip-synched their offerings.
Elton John, who was to have been a participant, did not show, and the press was informed that he was ill. But he will, in short order, contribute a song.
In the case of songs which were released prior to the concert, arbitrary changeover dates for assignment of copyright are being arranged. These will usually be the date when the songwriter made the commitment, and royalty figures will be worked out.
The concert was recorded and it’s hoped the record will be released soon, but clearing rights with the various recording companies could take months. Meanwhile, a number of record stores throughout the nation have volunteered to create a “Music For UNICEF” corner, in which they’ll feature the albums in which will appear the gift songs.
Frost was ably assisted on the air by Henry Fonda, with a stirring reading from “The Diary Of Anne Frank” which helped dramatize the plight of children, and Gilda Radner and Henry Winkler.
The program is being sold worldwide by Paramount, also on a cost basis. The show is already in 44 markets, with more to come. It aired simultaneously in Canada on the CBC; was seen in the U.K. Saturday 13th of January, 1979, and in Tokyo, Monday 15th of January, 1979, among other territories. Transcribed for ABBA World
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