Fiftieth anniversary of Beatlemania sweeps New York City

The Beatles land at JFK Airport in 1964.
The Beatles land at JFK Airport in 1964.

On Feb. 9, 1964, nearly half of the American population tuned in to CBS and watched four young men with silly haircuts play a few songs.

One of those people was 4-year-old Charles Rosenay. A silent, black-and-white home video shows little Charles wearing a bowl-cut wig, strumming a ukulele and lip-synching while “The Ed Sullivan Show” plays on the television behind him.

“My first memory ever is seeing the Beatles on ‘Ed Sullivan,’” Rosenay said on Monday, just three days before he will oversee a series of concerts marking the 50th anniversary of that storied appearance.

“It left quite an impression,” he added.

Yes, it’s been a half century since The Beatles made landfall in New York City, and Fab Four enthusiasts are gearing up the mark the occasion in a fittingly musical fashion.

Rosenay, whose childhood fascination with the band led him to publish a fan magazine and organize Beatles tours to the U.K., is the executive producer for NYC Fab 50, a star-studded concert series spanning four venues over as many days.

The celebrations kick off Thursday with the Twist & Shout benefit concert at the Apollo Theater — featuring Dionne Warwick, and Mary Wilson of The Supremes — and continue through the weekend with a Friday show at Hudson Theater, a Saturday show at Town Hall in Times Square and a wrap show on Sunday at Bitter End.

Bands from about 50 countries are in the lineup, including a few international tribute acts like Brazil’s Clube Big Beatles and Norway’s The Norwegian Beatles Band. Most tickets will run about $50 and, in keeping with the social activism that was dear to The Beatles’ hearts, proceeds will benefit Food Bank for New York City.

While all this is going on, more than 8,000 people are expected to descend on the Grand Hyatt hotel in midtown Friday to kick off The Fest for Beatles Fans: three days of panel discussions, film screenings, jam sessions, Beatles look-alike contests and live music by legendary artists such as Scottish folk musician Donovan.

“There’s so much happening this weekend,” said Stephen Thornton of ISL Public relations, which is handling the event. “Donovan will be giving a special lecture on transcendental meditation and the influence it had on ‘White Album,’ because he was actually with the Beatles when they were studying with Maharishi in India.”

As part of the convention, a bus trip to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday will mark 50 years since the exact moment John, Paul, George and Ringo first landed in the United States, with Virgin Airlines unveiling a plaque at the present-day Jet Blue Terminal Five.

A few nonmusical events are also on the docket this week, with a Beatles photo exhibition opening Friday at the Morrison Hotel Gallery and running through Feb. 28. The show — organized by Julian Lennon, the older son of John Lennon — features some never-before-seen photos of the band taken during their early years.

A free traveling show hosted by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts will also be swinging through town, opening at Lincoln Center on Thursday. “Ladies and Gentlemen… The Beatles!” features instruments, concert memorabilia, photographs and other Beatlemania artifacts and is open through May 10.

If the events of this week demonstrate anything, it’s that Beatlemania is far from dead.

“This is probably the biggest event ever in Beatles history, except for them actually arriving,” Rosenay said. “It’s pretty amazing to make it all — as the Beatles say — come together.”


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