50th Anniversary of Beatles’ DC concert

Today, February 11th, marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first U.S. concert — right here at the Washington Coliseum in D.C., only two days after their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. More than 8,000 fans showed up on a snowy night to hear the band play on a stage typically used as a boxing ring.The show began at 8:31 p.m. and included a short break halfway through the set to allow them to turn and face the other half of the audience. Over the course of three years, the Beatles performed more than 45 concerts in the United States, but Washington, D.C., will always be the first.

The Beatles' press conference, February 11, 1964

The Beatles’ press conference, February 11, 1964

In addition to serving as a landmark moment in music history and popular culture, the Beatles’ D.C. concert marked an important date in University of Maryland radio history. Paul Palmer and Bill Seaby, student reporters for WMUC, the campus radio station, attended and recorded the Beatles’ press conference prior to the D.C. performance. In 2013, the 1964 audio clip of the Beatles was rediscovered while preparing for the University Libraries’ special collections exhibit, “Saving College Radio: WMUC – Past, Present, and Future.” See our website for information about the exhibit.

The audio reel combined the pre-recorded press conference clips with narration from the WMUC announcers. In the radio broadcast, Bill Seaby attributed the Beatles’ popularity to their personalities — “likable guys with a disarming sense of humor.” The press conference questions included inquiries about their musical training, their first big break, their favorite musicians, and their opinions of President Johnson (“does he buy our records?”) and American girls (“marvelous”). The sense of humor that Seaby observed came into play during many of the band’s answers. When asked if the singers styled their hair in the mop-top before they became famous, Paul answered, “Only in the morning.” Later, Paul Palmer of WMUC asked how long they would remain in the U.S. and the response was, “Til we go.”

Follow this link to hear 10 minutes of highlights from the Beatles’ press conference: https://soundcloud.com/lschnitk/wmuc-beatles-interview. The clip was also used on WCAO, a Baltimore top-40 station during the 1960s and 1970s.

Toward the end of the clip, Palmer and Seaby conducted separate short interviews with George Harrison, John Lennnon, and Ringo Starr. They even managed to persuade John Lennon to record several station IDs for WMUC, one of which can be heard here: http://www.lib.umd.edu/wmuc/music.html (track 10). Bill Seaby ended the WMUC broadcast with the following words: “Only time will tell whether or not Beatlemania can be cured. Right now it seems we can only prescribe a large amount of Beatles music to satisfy the demand for these four young British stars.” It is proof of the band’s talents and universal appeal that even after 50 years, Beatlemania is alive and well.

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