When I heard the story that legendary music promoter Sid Bernstein had passed away at 95, I kept thinking how this man helped change the culture of the United States. It is no stretch to say that until Bernstein actually started promoting the Beatles, people on this side of the pond thought that Beatles were just bugs.
All that changed when Bernstein made it his mission to get the Beatles known, and what would follow is the now famous series of appearances in February 1964 that changed the course of history. Note it was not just music history that changed but American history itself – as the British Invasion that was coming would be more impactful and lasting than anything King George and his minions could have imagined before they were kicked across the pond for good by Washington and company.
Bernstein (who also promoted Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, and the Rolling Stones) had an ear for music. He had a hunch about these lads from Liverpool, and he arranged backers for the Fab Four and pushed to have their records played on the radio. All of this culminated in the arrival in New York City of the Beatles in February 1964. Bernstein engineered the mania that would ensue in the years to come. Though Bernstein got them started, it was their personalities and talent that would make them superstars and foment Beatlemania – thus opening the door for so many more British acts to follow.
I always think of Bernstein and Beatles manager Brian Epstein as the kind of guys who dared to think differently. Epstein took the first chance to think beyond the walls of his Liverpool music store and dream of how big this band could be. Epstein became their manager, got them known outside of Liverpool, and propelled them to fame in the U.K. It was Bernstein who then took up Epstein’s vision and saw what the Beatles could be in America, and before long the Beatles would conquer not just the United States but the world.
A year after the Beatles’ big appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and at Carnegie Hall, they would return in full vigor for their legendary performances at Shea Stadium. As the tickets and posters clearly reminded everyone “Sid Bernstein Presents,” this sealed the legacy of Bernstein and his work with the Beatles. After Shea Stadium (another first for a band to sell out a major venue such as this) there was no stopping the Beatles juggernaut.
Besides the legendary appearances and the fame that came with them, the Beatles’ legacy was inextricably linked with the city where it all started in America, and lifetime New Yorker Bernstein made that happen. As angels take him off to rest, I suppose John Lennon and George Harrison will be there to welcome him, and no doubt he and Brian Epstein will come together and recall that they were responsible for making it possible that four lads from Liverpool would shake the world.
Rest in peace, Sid Bernstein.
Photo credits: Bernstein-wireimage; Beatles-AP; poster-maccafan.net