Music for UNICEF - A Gift of Song Concert

Filmed: Tuesday 9 January 1979

Location: United Nations, National Assembly Hall, New York, USA

Broadcast: See below for detailed info

Release status: See below

Duration: 1 hour, 15 minutes (ABBA bits about 8 minutes)

Shown in: Worldwide

Additional information

UNICEF is an acronym for the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. 1979 was their "International Year of The Child".

The Music for UNICEF Concert: A Gift of Song was a benefit concert of popular music held in the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and it was intended to raise money for UNICEF world hunger programs and to mark the beginning of the International Year of the Child. The presenter was British TV personality David Frost, with comedienne Gilda Radner and actor Henry ("The Fonz") Winkler also introducing some of the performers. Legendary actor Henry Fonda also made a short appearance. Each performer signed a large parchment declaring support for UNICEF's goals.

The concert was the idea of impresario Robert Stigwood, The Bee Gees, and David Frost, who originally conceived it as an annual event. Not all of the performances were truly live, with ABBA lip-synching their new song Chiquitita and the Bee Gees lip-synching their song Too Much Heaven.

Initially, the committee invited ABBA, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge (then husband and wife), Barry Manilow, Elton John and Andy Gibb. However, as the date of the concert approached, both Barry Manilow and Elton John found that their other commitments made it impossible for them to be present. Elton's name is even on the NBC poster.  (According to ABBA Magazine No.10, Fleetwood Mac were on the original line-up as well). Barry Manilow and Elton John were apparently replaced by Donna Summer, John Denver and Earth, Wind & Fire even though their names already appear on the NBC poster.

The idea was that apart from performing at the concert without being paid, each of the artists who took part would donate the royalties from one of their songs to UNICEF. ABBA donated the royalty rights to their latest single Chiquitita to the UN Children's Fund. Apparently the royalties were 50% which earned UNICEF 4 million dollars. Nowadays it's 100% of the royalties going towards UNICEF.

Running order of the concert:

  1. Each artist was shown arriving at the United Nations Assembly Hall: ABBA, The Bee Gees, Rita Coolidge, John Denver, Earth, Wind & Fire, Andy Gibb, Kris Kristofferson, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart, Donna Summer and co-hosts Henry Fonda, Gilda Radner and Henry Winkler.
  2. Each artist was shown singing a little bit each in turn by way of introduction:
    1. The Bee Gees - Children of the World
    2. John Denver - Poems, Prayers and Promises
    3. Olivia Newton-John - Let Me Be There
    4. Earth, Wind & Fire - That's The Way of The World
    5. Andy Gibb - (Our Love) Don't Throw It All Away
    6. Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson - Sunday Morning Coming Down
    7. Donna Summer - Fairy Tale High
    8. Rod Stewart - I Was Only Joking
    9. ABBA - He Is Your Brother (not LIVE) and they were joined by the other artistes on stage.
  3. Rita Coolidge and Kris KristoffersonFallen Angels
  4. Olivia Newton-John - The Key
  5. Andy Gibb (introduced by The Bee Gees) - I Go For You
  6. Earth, Wind & Fire - September
  7. Rita Coolidge and Donna Summer - You've Got a Friend
  8. Rod Stewart - Do Ya Think I'm Sexy
  9. Donna Summer - Mimi's Song
  10. Olivia Newton-John and Andy Gibb - Rest Your Love On Me
  11. ABBA - Chiquitita
    They were introduced by Gilda Radner (wife of US comic actor Gene Wilder) as "Benny Bror Goran Andersson Björn Christian Ulvaeus Agnetha Ase Anna Faltskog UlvaeusAnni or Frida Lyngstad. Or to put it another way - ABBA!"). Prior to the performance they were seen sitting in their seats waiting for their turn.  
  12. Donna Summer presented ABBA with the Parchment so they could sign over the royalties for the song.
  13. John DenverRhymes & Reasons
  14. ABBA presented John Denver with the Parchment to sign
  15. The Bee Gees - Too Much Heaven
  16. Presentation of the signed Parchment by all artistes.
  17. All artistes and presenters led by John Denver, to Jackie DeShannon's song Put A Little Love in Your Heart.

At one point during the concert, David Frost introduced the UNICEF Ambassador at Large - the actor Danny Kaye.

Björn said of the concert, "It is very difficult to know which shows to accept. We did the UNICEF show in New York partly because it was for a very good cause but also because it was being broadcast everywhere in the world."

The Music for UNICEF - A Gift of Song Concert was a huge success and was broadcast in over 70 countries around the world seen by more than 300 million people. It actually raised less than one million dollars at the time for UNICEF, although this figure did not include longer-term royalties from the songs and repeat performances. A more recent estimate is that the Music for UNICEF - A Gift of Song Concert, plus the song royalties donated by the contributing artistes, amounted to more than £50,000,000.

An LP was released which featured 10 of the songs featured at the concert including Chiquitita (just the normal recorded version).

It's very sad, looking back, at the number of people in this concert with whom ABBA worked, who are no longer with us: John Denver, Andy, Maurice and Robin Gibb, Donna Summer, Maurice White (from Earth, Wind & Fire), plus David Frost, Henry Fonda and Gilda Radner.

Svenska Dagbladet dated 11 January 1979 wrote that ABBA had made (contributed to, probably) “a commercial” for the UNICEF record. No further details.

Broadcast information:
Wednesday 10 January 1979 from 20:00-21:30 (EST), NBC, USA (and subsequently broadcast in 70 countries to an audience of 300 million people)
Saturday 13 January 1979, 20:00-21:30, ITV, UK (Note: the listing in the Daily Mail published the programme title as "David Frost Presents: A Gift of Song")
Saturday 3 February 1979, Norway
Friday 30 March 1979 on SVT at 8pm, Sweden
Wednesday 25 April 1979 and 14:00 and Thursday 1 November 1979, at 15:40pm on TV1, Italy programme named Una canzone per regalo
Tuesday 1 May 1979, Argentina.

The performance of Chiquitita has been released on the CD/DVD Voulez-Vous Deluxe Edition


Donna Summer did not realise that Chiquitita was over when waiting to present ABBA with the parchment to sign and had to wait for the musical part to finish.

Lyrics available on the Official ABBA site 

Some information from ABBA Magazine Nos.10 & 11 and ABBA Annual 1981 . Enormous thanks to Jan Bach. Thanks also to Marc Handke, Alexandre Carvalho, Tony Rogers, Ian Cole, Johan Jerreling, Henk, Carl Magnus Palm and Sam Shervz. Special thanks to Jozsef.  Extra thanks to Richard Knight, Silvia Sedano and Sam Inglles c/o ABBAtalk
YouTube link c/o evocando hoy

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