50 years after mop tops landed, Yids whose marketing unleashed a revolution are rememberedBy Lonnie Ostrow for The Jewish Star
Fifty years ago this week, on Feb. 7, 1964 four charismatic, long-haired young men from Liverpool landed at the newly renamed JFK airport. They were met at the Pan Am arrival terminal by 5,000 screaming fans (mostly young women). Two nights later, they made their American television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. More than 73 million people tuned in to experience what would be the start of a cultural revolution …and a musical love affair that has now lasted half a century.
John, Paul, George and Ringo. The Beatles. Perhaps the most hyped entertainers in the history of popular culture. And remarkably, a group of four extraordinarily talented musicians who managed to exceed overwhelming expectations from the publicity buildup.
The numbers are truly staggering. Twenty Beatles songs have topped the U.S. singles chart. Nineteen of their albums have hit the #1 position. They are the bestselling recording artists of all time by a wide margin, with more than 600 million albums sold worldwide.
No, the Beatles were not Jewish. We can lay claim to Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan and Sandy Koufax. But the Fab Four? Ringo Starr had a Jewish step-father (Harry Graves). His mother, Elsie Gleave Starkey was once rumored to be of Jewish ancestry, though nothing definitive has ever been proven. That’s about as close as we get to a “Jewish Beatle.”
But as for their supporting cast… well, let’s just say that if it weren’t for an assortment of businessmen, promoters, lawyers, visionaries, and a trio of spouses, the Beatles almost certainly would not be remembered as the lasting phenomenon they remain today.
Brian Epstein was born in Liverpool, UK, on Yom Kippur day in 1934, the son of Malka and Harry Epstein. He was raised in an Orthodox, Yiddish-speaking household.