It is my great honor to present to you this telephone interview with Sid Bernstein.
In early 1963, Sid, a former student at Columbia University, WWII vet, ex-ballroom manager was acting as an independent promoter/agent and at 44 years old was also earning about $200 a week working for General Artists Corporation (GAC), the largest theatrical agency in America. He was taking a night school course, at the time, under Dr. Max Lerner, at the New York School of Social Research. He’d begun the course in 1962 and during October of that year, as part of the coursework, he was required to read English newspapers each week. By the time his course had finished in February 1963 he noted the rise of an obscure rock group from Liverpool who had begun to dominate the British press with headlines of Beatlemania.
He had a hunch that The Beatles were unique, but couldn’t convince anyone at GAC. So having never even heard any of their music, he set out on his own by seeking out Beatle manager Brian Epstein’s phone number in Liverpool and calling him in February 1963. Sid had decided on promoting them independently in New York and suggested to Brian that he would like to book them at Carnegie Hall. This was before anyone in the US was even aware of The Beatles and at a time when rock bands did not play at prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall. A year later, in early 1964, thanks to some ingenious negotiations from Sid, it happened. He was also responsible for getting The Beatles to play at Shea Stadium in 1965 and 1966, again at a time when it was unheard of for a rock band to play at a sports stadium.
Sid went on to change the music scene here in the US in the 1960’s by bringing many rock artists from Britain to America, including The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Dave Clark 5, The Animals, The Moody Blues, The Kinks but first and foremost for our listening audience, The Beatles. Sid became close fiends with Brian Epstein and last spoke to him in April 1967, shortly before Brian’s death, about a management partnership. Sid had begun managing The Young Rascals and Brian would include some of his new artists such as The Bee Gees and Cream. Brian was also working with Robert Stigwood on this, who went on to create his own well known record label RSO (for Robert Stigwood Organization) in the 1970’s.
Sid made two unsuccessful attempts to reunite The Beatles during the 1970’s. Once in 1976 when he took out an ad in the European Herald suggesting The Beatles reunite for a benefit concert in aid of either the victims of a recent major earthquake in Italy or for the homeless, parent-less children of Biafra. In 1979 he tried again to reunite the group through advertising, suggesting a benefit concert to aid the Vietnamese Boat People.
Sid is now 92 years old and full of humor and charm. This past August he attended Paul McCartney’s Philadelphia show as you will hear in this interview and he is close friends with Lenny Kravitz’s father. He spoke candidly with me over the phone yesterday about his amazing past, though it had to be kept quite brief for the sake of a 15 minute interview to be posted here and for airplay on Fab 4 Radio. For more of Sid’s amazing story, please check out his memoirs published in his book It’s Sid Bernstein Calling … The Promoter Who Brought the Beatles to America.