Kaleidoscope: Beatlemania began 50 years ago on Sullivan

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

Fifty-year anniversaries of famous events are becoming more and more commonplace as I approach senior citizendom. At 61, some people might consider me already there. Even though I'm not retired, I am a member of AARP, as many others in their 50s and older are.

In November, the nation observed the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This weekend will be the 50th anniversary of a memorable but much more pleasant event in history -- the initial appearance of the Beatles on the "Ed Sullivan Show" -- which launched Beatlemania.

From Feb. 6-9, four days of musical tributes in New York City are scheduled to recognize the Fab Four's first trip to the United States in February 1964. On Feb. 9 at 8 p.m., CBS Television will present "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles."

The latter show will air at the same time and on the same date as the Beatles' first appearance on Sullivan. It was taped Jan. 27 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, just one day after the 56th annual Grammy Awards.

Former Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will appear on the show, along with Annie Lennox, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Maroon 5, John Mayer and Keith Urban. The other Beatles are gone; John Lennon was shot and killed in 1980 in New York City and George Harrison died in 2001.

In addition to music, the show will feature footage from that first Beatles appearance and other archival material, as well as presenters who will talk about the musical, cultural and historical impact of the group.

During the Feb. 6-9 commemoration in New York City, there will be a "Twist & Shout: New York Celebrates the Beatles" event, an all-star concert at the Apollo Theater and dozens of bands performing at various venues.

APPEARANCES ON SULLIVAN

The Beatles first and second appearances on Sullivan were the most watched regular TV programs in history, with 70 million-plus people tuning in (23 million homes and 45 percent of U.S. households with TV sets). I was one of them.

The Sullivan show took place in the Ed Sullivan Theater, which has existed since 1936 and today is the home of "Late Night with David Letterman." Seven hundred got to see the Beatles perform in person. There were 50,000 requests for tickets, and many famous people could not get them.

Sullivan worked out a deal with Beatles' manager Brian Epstein during a trip to London in 1963. The group received $10,000 for three appearances on Feb. 9, 16 and 23. The last appearance actually was taped before the first live appearance.

After Sullivan introduced the group -- "Ladies and gentleman, the Beatles" -- the mopped-topped Brits sang "All My Loving," "Till There Was You," "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."

A Newsweek magazine review of the show was not complimentary: "Visually, they are a nightmare: tight, dandified, Edwardian/Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair," it said. "The odds are they will fade away, as most adults confidently predict."

Oh, how wrong that turned out to be!

The Feb. 16 Sullivan appearance was broadcast from the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla., when the Beatles sang "She Loves You," "This Boy," "All My Loving," "I Saw Her Standing There," "From Me to You" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."

On the third show, the Beatles sang "Twist and Shout," "Please Please Me" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."

In September 1965, the group made one last appearance on Sullivan, a show taped one day before kicking off a North American tour at Shea Stadium.

All of the appearances were aired in black and white. One week after the last appearance, Sullivan's show began airing in color. The four shows resulted in about 250 million people watching.

OTHER BEATLES INFO

Although the Beatles stayed together for less than a dozen years, many people consider them the greatest rock band of all time. They started the British Invasion into the U.S. The Rolling Stones have been together much, much longer, but I've never been a big fan of theirs.

There probably are more Beatles tribute bands than any other famous group. I've seen 1964, a local band which has been called "the best Beatles tribute band on Earth" by Rolling Stone Magazine. It will play Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Palace Theater in Cleveland.

Another one -- Hard Days Night -- will play Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. at the Kent Stage.

In addition to Hard Days Night's appearance, a dozen venues in Kent will feature Beatles music the evening of Feb. 7 during a Beatlefest

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of course, has a vast Beatles exhibition, and will commemorate the 50th anniversary of their appearance in the U.S. on Feb. 9 with screenings of "The Sixties: The British Invasion" and "The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit," plus a lecture titled "The Beatles and American Rock and Roll."

The Beatles received a Lifetime Achievement Award in conjunction with the Grammy Awards. Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the widows of Lennon and Harrison, attended.

At the televised Grammy Awards, McCartney performed his new song "Queenie Eye" with Starr playing the drums. It was the first time in five years the two had appeared together. Starr also sang one of his post-Beatles songs, "Photograph."

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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