Did Beatlemania Explode In The USA Due To JFK's Assassination?
When JFK Was Assassinated
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician who served as the 35th president of the United States from 1961 until his assassination near the end of his third year in office.
There has been much written over what effect the Kennedy assassination had on the Beatles success in America. Some have gone as far to say that this tragic event played a key role, arguing that the youth of America, despondent over the death of President Kennedy, were looking for something to lift them out of their doldrums and that the Beatles provided the required tonic.
I personally believe that the connection between the assassination and the explosion of Beatlemania in America has been blown out of proportion by those looking for an explanation as to why America’s youngsters embraced the group.
The Beatles Ed Sullivan
The Beatles invasion of America occurring that February was successful in part due to the Kennedy assassination three months earlier. It is hard to predict if the band would have taken the country by storm as easily without the events of Nov. 22, 1963. But no doubt coming when it did, the arrival of The Beatles provided a remedy to a hurting nation waiting for relief.
He was charismatic… and a war hero to boot, having served in the Navy, narrowly avoiding death, having his ship sunk and saving a wounded soldier from certain death while Kennedy himself was seriously injured…
his WWII record certainly didn’t harm the public perception of JFK one bit — he was a certified badass. Kennedy made the most of his time.
He not only helped the U.S. economy out of a recession, but he created the Peace Corps, helped women achieve fairer wages, contributed to the partial ban of nuclear testing and established the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
JFK took office during one of the most turbulent times in American history. The Cold War between democracy and communism was becoming more belligerent, and the United States and the Soviet Union possessed enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over.
In American cities, racial tension was rising. Growing numbers of black Americans had begun to demonstrate for equal treatment under the law, and white segregationists promised to deny these rights, using violence if necessary.
Elected in 1960, he brought an energy and grace to the Oval Office. His humanity in pursuing civil rights in the United States elevated him to a visionary level of both Presidents Lincoln and Washington. Yet, he is also the first and possibly only US President to be faced with one of the world’s most critical moments when the United States and the Soviet Union were on the verge of engaging in global nuclear warfare in 1962.
This would be a post-World War II event that could plunge the global climate into a nuclear winter and kill millions. The Soviets were establishing missile bases in Cuba 90 miles from the tip of Florida.
Was the Russian Premier Khrushchev testing the young Kennedy? Kennedy made a pivotal decision by ordering the U.S. Navy to create a blockade around the Caribbean Island of Cuba.
The world held its breath and waited to see who would back down first. Kennedy prevailed.
JFK And Jackie (Dallas)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m. CST in Dallas, Texas, while riding in a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza.
Kennedy was riding with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally's wife when he was allegedly shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was a former US Marine.
The motorcade rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where Kennedy was pronounced dead about 30 minutes after the shooting; At 11:21 a.m. November 24, 1963, as live television cameras were covering his transfer from the city jail to the county jail. Oswald was fatally shot in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters (then in the Dallas Municipal Building) by Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby.
When JFK Was Assassinated
There was only one news story for months. The events of Nov. 22, 1963 ruled the press rooms of every major newspaper and television network. From Thanksgiving 1963 into the New Year, the assassination of John F. Kennedy dominated the news media while Americans grieved their beloved president.
A cloud of negativity hung over the country for months. Something had to give. The country needed to move on and get over the events of November. What could be powerful enough to do that?
In the UK in 1963, The Beatles had dominated the record charts for most of the year. Their last three singles, Please Please Me, From Me To You and She Loves You, had all topped the U.K. charts. In that same November week that JFK was assassinated, the band were presented with silver disc awards (indicating sales of over 250,000 units) for their Twist And Shout EP (which by then had sold an incredible 650,000 copies, making it the largest selling EP in British history).
She Loves You (which by then had nearly sold a million) and their first two albums, Please Please Me and With The Beatles, even though the latter LP had yet to be released.
Although the Beatles had been creeping into the national consciousness for months, it was the group’s October 13, 1963 appearance on the television show Val Parnell’s Sunday Night At The London Palladium that elevated group had grown from a successful entertainment act to a national news phenomenon.
The popular variety show was the British equivalent of The Ed Sullivan Show. That evening, over 15 million people tuned in to see the group perform From Me To You, I’ll Get You, She Loves You and Twist And Shout.
Ed Sullivan Show With The Beatles
The bedlam caused by the Beatles both inside and outside the theatre caught the attention of British news editors. The Daily Herald lauded the coming of “Beatle-Fever!” The Daily Mirror echoed these sentiments describing the mass hysteria as “Beatlemania!” The latter term became part of the British vocabulary and would soon be heard throughout the world.
Three weeks later on November 4, 1963, the group played before British royalty at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London as part of the Royal Command Performance. The group entertained the elite crowd with From Me To You, She Loves You, Till There Was You and Twist And Shout.
Prior to the star of their last number, John quipped, “For our last number I’d like to ask you help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery.”
The following morning, manager Brian Epstein departed London for a visit to New York City. One week after the group performed before the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, Epstein met with Ed Sullivan in hopes of arranging appearances for the Beatles on Sullivan’s popular variety show, which aired on Sunday nights on the CBS television network.
The two reached an agreement that the Beatles would appear on The Ed Sullivan Show twice, first on February 9, 1964, broadcast live from New York, and then on February 16 live from the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach. In addition, the Beatles would tape an additional performance, which could be shown later in the season.
Although the group was virtually unknown in America at the time the deal was made, Sullivan thought it was worth the investment, believing that the mass hysteria caused by the group in their homeland could be duplicated in America.
Ed Sullivan The Beatles
Sullivan’s faith in the Beatles would soon be justified when the London bureaus of American magazines and television networks began reporting back to the States of strange happenings across the Pond. But to fully understand why it would take a few more months for Beatlemania to explode in American, you also has to be aware of how different people communicated in the sixties compared to today...
In the sixties, there were no home computers. The internet was of course yet to be invented. Not only were there no smart phones, but telephones were tethered to the wall. Long distance calls were considered an extravagant luxury due to their high costs. Tweeting was something that birds did. Put simply, we were not living in a global community.
The media was also drastically different. There were only three major television networks, CBS, NBC and ABC. There were no networks devoted to news or entertainment. There were only a handful of news magazines. Rolling Stone would not begin publishing until four years later. People magazine was over a decade away.
On November 22 CBS’s London bureau had prepared a five-minute story on the Beatles that was set to air that day on both the CBS Morning News with Mike Wallace and the prestigious CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Early in the day, the CBS Morning News covered President Kennedy’s re-election campaign tour through Texas.
The President had given speeches the day before in San Antonio and Houston before heading to Fort Worth to spend the night in the Texas Hotel. On the morning of November 22, he gave two speeches in Fort Worth and then headed by plane to Dallas. The Beatles story was broadcast that morning.
Meanwhile, back in the U.K., the Beatles new album finally went on sale. As President Kennedy and his wife were being warmly greeted by an enthusiastic crowd at Love Field in Dallas, British fans were buying copies of With The Beatles so that they could spend their evening listening to the new record.
As the President’s motorcade was heading through the streets of Dallas, the Beatles were gearing up for their concert at the Globe Cinema in Stockton-on-Tees, Durham. Back in Dallas, three shots were fired at the President’s motorcade at approximately 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time.
Two of the shots struck the President, with the third and final shot entering his head. President Kennedy was taken directly to Parkland Hospital, where he was officially pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m.
Thirty-eight minutes later Walter Cronkite broke the news to the nation. By mid-afternoon, all three television networks were on the air non-stop broadcasting news surrounding the day’s tragic events. Because there was no regular evening news show that night, the CBS Beatles story was not shown again until December 10, 1963, at which time it helped jump-start Beatlemania in America.
Many have discussed the connection between the Kennedy assassination and the popularity of the Beatles, though when you consider and look beyond the United States, the connection becomes even more tenuous. The Beatles were extremely popular in England, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada and several other countries. None of these nations was suffering the trauma of having its head of state assassinated, yet the youth of these countries embraced the Beatles.
Although the death of President Kennedy did not cause Americans to fall for the Beatles, it may have indirectly contributed to the group’s success in the United States. The saturation coverage of the Beatles by the American press in early 1964 closely parallels the conduct of the British press a few months earlier.
Philip Norman, in his Beatles biography Shout!, theorizes that the massive coverage of the Beatles by the British press was in response to months of reporting somber events. “By the end of September, every editor on Fleet Street was looking for a diversion from this incessant heavy news – something light; something unconnected with the aristocratic classes; something harmless, blameless and, above all, cheerful.” Beatlemania proved to be the perfect escape.
Similarly, the American press had grown weary of reporting on the assassination and other depressing events. The Beatles provided a break from over two months of somber news.
Thus, while President Kennedy’s assassination did not cause the youth of America to embrace the Beatles, it may have led the press to give more coverage to the Beatles, which in turn helped spread Beatlemania throughout the United States.
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