Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Concert Promoter Sid Bernstein R.I.P.

Sid Bernstein, the man who brought The Beatles to Carnegie Hall and organised many other rock concerts, died at the age of 95 on 21 August 2013.

Sid Bernstein was born in Manhattan, New York City on 1 August 1918. He developed an interest in entertainment while still young, frequently going to movies and vaudeville shows. In 1943 he enlisted in the United States Army.  He served with the 602nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion. While he was in the Army he had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time in England, which led to his love of British culture. He went onto fight in the Battle of Bulge. While he was stationed in France he published his own newspaper for American soldiers, The Comeback Diary. He later started a nightclub for GIs.

After World War II Sid Bernstein returned to New York City he organised shows at such venues as the Apollo, the Palace, the Paramount, and others. He also helped organise the Newport Jazz Festival and promote a tour for singer and actress Judy Garland. Eventually he went to work for the talent agency General Artists Corporation (G.A.C.). He served as Tony Bennett's agent, even getting the singer a gig performing at Carnegie Hall.

Interested in British culture ever since he had served in the United States Army, Sid Bernstein continued to read British newspapers after World War II had ended. It was in 1962 that he noticed several new stories about a phenomenally popular new band in the United Kingdom called The Beatles. While he had never heard any of The Beatles' songs, the British press had him convinced that they could be a success in the United States.

Eventually he called Brian Epstein, The Beatles' manager, with the intent of bringing The Beatles to the States. At this point only a few of The Beatles' songs had been released in the United States and all of them had done poorly, so Mr. Epstein had his doubts. Mr. Bernstein won Mr. Epstein over only by telling him that he would get The Beatles booked into Carnegie. Hall. Sid Bernstein got The Beatles into Carnegie Hall by a bit of subterfuge. He knew the woman who did the bookings for Carnegie Hall, and he told her that she should book this new phenomenon from England called The Beatles. The woman assumed they were a string quartet and Mr. Bernstein never let her know anything different. It would be the first time ever that a rock band played Carnegie Hall. The Beatles' performance at Carnegie Hall would only be their third performance in the United States, after their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and a gig at Washington Coliseum in Washington D.C.

Of course, with their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and their concert at Carnegie Hall, The Beatles became a phenomenon in the United States. With such success Sid Bernstein naturally wanted to bring them back to the United States, except to a much larger venue. He considered Madison Square Garden, but dismissed it as it only had a seating capacity of 17,000. He then decided on Shea Stadium, home to the New York Mets. The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein worried that at 55,000 seats Shea Stadium might be too large. He told Sid Bernstein, "I don’t want any empty seats." Mr. Bernstein then offered Brian Epstein $10 for every empty seat. As it was, Brian Epstein need not have worried. The Beatles concert at Shea Stadium set both an attendance record and the record for gross profit for a concert that would remain unbroken for years. It was the first major concert held at a stadium.

Sid Bernstein's achievements went well beyond bringing The Beatles to Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium. He also brought The Rolling Stones to Carnegie Hall (after which Mr. Bernstein has said, "...They asked me never to come back." He would go onto organise concerts for other British bands, including The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Kinks, The Moody Blues, Herman’s Hermits, and others. If he became known as "the Father of the British Invasion", it was with good reason.

Over the years he would also organise concerts for Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Sly & The Family Stone, The Bay City Rollers, Lenny Kravitz, and many others. Mr. Bernstein also booked acts for the Sixties TV rock music show Hullabaloo. He discovered and managed The Young Rascals. In 1970 he produced the Winter Festival for Peace at Madison Square Garden and the Sumner Festival for Peace at Shea Stadium.

If Sid Bernstein had only booked The Beatles into Carnegie Hall he would have had an enormous impact on rock history. If he had only booked The Beatles into Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium he would have had an enormous impact on rock history. As it was he did much more. There can be little doubt that his promotion for concerts by British bands in the United States helped fuel the British Invasion. He would also be pivotal with regards to music beyond the British Invasion, playing a role in the careers of artists as diverse as Tony Bennett, Judy Garland,  Jimi Hendrix, and many others.

It would be easy to say that Sid Bernstein had a bit of luck in booking The Beatles to Carnegie Hall. After all, the timing was just right. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" had hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 at the start of the month. The Beatles had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show only days before the Carnegie Hall concert. The fact remains that Mr. Bernstein had made his decision to book The Beatles based on what he had read in the British press and correctly surmised that such success could be duplicated over here. It was this acumen for what might prove successful that made Sid Bernstein effective as both an agent and a promoter. With that in mind, it is little wonder he had the impact on the history of pop and rock music that the did.

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