Entertainment News

  • 22 August 2013, 8:52

Sid Bernstein: Legendary Music Promoter Dies

Sid Bernstein, the legendary music promoter who masterminded the Beatles' historic New York concert at Shea Stadium and booked many of the industry's top acts, has died aged 95.

Bernstein, who worked with the likes ofJimi Hendrix, Judy Garland and the Rolling Stones, died in his sleep on Wednesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, his daughter said.

Casey Deutsch cited no specific illness and said her father died of natural causes.

For decades, the squat, floppy-haired Bernstein excelled like few others at being everywhere and knowing everybody.

He worked with Duke Ellington and Ray Charles, promoted Dion, Bobby Darin and Chubby Checker, and managed Esy Morales, the Rascals and Ornette Coleman.

He was an early backer of Abba, setting up the Swedish group's first American appearances.

Bernstein was behind one of the first rock benefit shows, the 1970 'Winter Festival for Peace' at Madison Square Garden, which featured Hendrix and Peter, Paul and Mary.

He also helped revive Tony Bennett's career with a 1962 show at Carnegie Hall.

But it was a chance reading of a British newspaper for a college course in 1963 that started Bernstein on the path to his biggest break.

The Beatles were just catching on in their native country, and it was "the right time to be reading an English newspaper", Bernstein explained in a 2001 interview with the music publication NY Rock Confidential.

"So here I am reading little stories about this group from Liverpool that is causing a lot of 'hysteria'.

"By the end of the course, I was so Beatle-ized by what I read, even though I did not hear a note, I said: 'Gotta get 'em'."

As Bernstein recalled, he couldn't get his agency interested in the group, so he personally tracked down Brian Epstein and convinced the Beatles' manager that he could line up a gig at New York's Carnegie Hall.

The Beatles were still unknown in the US and the price was cheap - $6,500 (4,150) for two shows.

By February 1964, Beatlemania had crossed over to the States and the band was set to play on The Ed Sullivan Show just three days before the Carnegie concerts.

Once the Beatles hit, Bernstein was primed to get the bands that followed.

He arranged shows for the Stones, the Animals and other British groups, while saving his biggest dreams for the Beatles.

Everything for Bernstein was the latest and the greatest, but his word was never more golden than in 1965 when he landed the group at Shea Stadium, the idea given to him by a ticket manager at Carnegie Hall.

It was rock's first major stadium concert and some 55,000 fans lost their voices on an August night as the show broke box-office records.

The New York Times described the scene as meeting the "classic Greek meaning of the word pandemonium - the region of all demons".

The Beatles played again at Shea in 1966, but turned down $1m from Bernstein to return in 1967 and never worked with him again, although he remained friendly with individual members after their breakup.

Obsessed with getting the band back together, he proposed $100m in 1976 for a single concert.

John Lennon, in a 1980 Playboy interview, dismissed Bernstein's offer as "a commercial for Sid Bernstein, written with Jewish schmaltz and show biz and tears, dropping on one knee, like Al Jolson."

Like so many in the music business, Bernstein was the hustling son of Jewish immigrants, born on Manhattan's Upper East Side, raised in Harlem and hooked on sound and rhythm.

He sneaked into the Apollo Theatre as a boy, booked local acts in high school and, while studying journalism at Columbia University, ran a ballroom in Brooklyn that featured such Latino stars as Morales, Tito Puente and Marcelino Guera.

Over the past 20 years, Bernstein's best client became himself. He wrote two memoirs, It's Sid Bernstein Calling and Not Just The Beatles, gave frequent talks about his life and even recorded an album of duets.

At age 90, he started a Twitter account, sending regards to Ben Stiller and Lenny Kravitz, reporting on his lunch at the 2nd Avenue Deli and catching up with Beatles fans.

"Twitterland!" he called out in one post. "Let's all have a productive week. I have a few very interesting projects in the works and I'll reveal them very soon."

Bernstein and his wife, Geraldine, were married for more than 40 years. They had six children.