Sid Bernstein, who brought the Beatles to Carnegie Hall, dies at 95


Music producer and promoter Sid Bernstein, who worked with the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, the Rascals and Frank Sinatra died Aug. 21, 2013 in New York City. He was 95. (John Lamparski/Getty Images)
August 22, 2013

Sid Bernstein, a relentless and savvy music promoter who brought the Beatles to New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium and whose other clients included entertainers such as Judy Garland, ABBA, Tony Bennett and the Bay City Rollers, died Aug. 21 in New York. He was 95.

An adopted son, Jason Ressler, confirmed the death but did not disclose the cause.

Mr. Bernstein was an established promoter when — through happenstance in 1963 — he got his biggest break. He was taking a course in politics at the New School for Social Research in New York that required him to read one British newspaper a week.

“This was the right time to be reading an English newspaper,” he later told the magazine 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.’ ”

General Artists, the talent agency he was working for, had very little interest in booking the group. Mr. Bernstein persisted, tracking down Beatles manager Brian Epstein and convincing him that he could bring the mop-headed quartet to Carnegie Hall, a primarily classical venue then.


In this Feb. 12, 1964 file photo, the Beatles, from left Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr on drums and John Lennon, perform at Carnegie Hall in New York. (Uncredited/AP)

“I knew the woman who did the Carnegie bookings,” he told the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call in 2008. “I used to see her in the neighborhood supermarket. I told her there was this group of four guys from England who were a phenomenon, that she should get them. Carnegie never had a rock group before, so when I made my application, she assumed they were a string quartet — I never told her otherwise. When they saw the crowds, they weren’t too happy.”

It was the Beatles’ third appearance in the United States, after a concert the previous night at Washington Coliseum in the District and their TV appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” The band’s fee was $6,500 for two shows at Carnegie Hall — an amount just under $49,000 in today’s money.

On Aug. 15, 1965, Mr. Bernstein brought the Beatles to Shea Stadium. By this time, their fee was $180,000, and 55,000 fans, mostly pubescent girls, descended on the sports venue. A New York Times writer likened it to the “classic Greek meaning of the word pandemonium — the region of all demons.”

The Liverpool foursome would play one more time at Shea, in 1966, but turned down an offer by Mr. Bernstein to return the next year for $1 million.

He tried several times to get the Beatles to reunite for a concert after their breakup in 1970 by making extravagant offers or suggesting a charitable benefit. He even took out a beseeching full-page ad in the New York Times in 1976.

His desire to repeat his British-band success also led him to hype the Bay City Rollers, a U.K. boy band, as the next Beatles in 1975. Their U.S. tour prompted a Washington Post critic to write that “if the Bay City Rollers are the new Beatles, then Howard Cosell . . . is Robert Redford.”

Mr. Bernstein’s success with the Beatles made him a major U.S. promoter for rock music, particularly British bands. He brought the Rolling Stones to Carnegie Hall in June 1964 but was subsequently banned from the performance space for several years after Stones fans had stood on chairs and left debris in the otherwise elegant auditorium.

Undaunted, he arranged shows for the Kinks, Eric Burdon, the Animals, the Moody Blues and other British bands at two other New York showplaces, the Paramount Theatre and the Academy of Music. He also managed Long Island’s popular “blue-eyed soul” band, the Young Rascals. (He later dropped the “Young.”)

The Beatles weren’t the first risk Mr. Bernstein took as an agent. In 1962, Tony Bennett, the main rival to Frank Sinatra in the 1950s, hadn’t had a record hit the charts in several years and was struggling for bookings.

“From the time I was a kid, I was a sucker for pop singers,” Mr. Bernstein told Bennett biographer David Evanier. “Tony became my favorite. And I watched him. I knew him from the Brill Building, Hanson’s, from the neighborhood. . . . He didn’t know what a fan of his I was. Then he came to see me in 1961.”

Bennett, who was handled by General Artists, was considering leaving the agency when Mr. Bernstein approached him about a booking at Carnegie Hall. There was a catch: The venue had no interest in the show, and Bennett would have to put up $2,000 of his own money as a deposit fee for the hall.

Mr. Bernstein put posters up in Italian neighborhoods, took out ads in three New York dailies and purchased seats for the promotional staff at Columbia Records. The Carnegie Hall concert received rave reviews and renewed Columbia’s interest in the singer’s career.

Sidney Bernstein was born in Manhattan on Aug. 12, 1918. He was adopted by a Yiddish-speaking Russian immigrant couple. He grew up in the Bronx and Harlem. He found his adoption papers but never confronted his parents about it. His adoptive father was a tailor.

Mr. Bernstein served as a gunner in the Army in Europe during World War II, and, while in France after his discharge, he ran a nightclub for American soldiers.

Upon his return, he booked shows for Brown’s Hotel in the New York Catskills and weekly dances at Tremont Terrace, a Bronx nightclub. As more Puerto Ricans moved into the Bronx, he rechristened Tremont as the Trocadero and alternated mambo concerts with bar mitzvah parties.

He briefly produced the Newport Jazz Festival in 1961, which featured appearances by Bob Hope and Judy Garland. He also presented Garland at Carnegie Hall and rhythm-and-blues performer James Brown at the Paramount, a booking Brown credited with helping him cross over to pop audiences.

Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Geraldine Gale Bernstein of New York; eight children; and six grandchildren.

In 2000, he wrote a memoir with Arthur Aaron called “Not Just the Beatles . . .,” later republished as “It’s Sid Bernstein Calling.”

In it, he spoke critically about the state of music promotion.

“The players in the promotion business today are, by and large, not in it for the art anymore,” he wrote. “It’s all about how many bucks can you make on a concert. That’s permissible; I mean, we are in a capitalistic society. But I feel a lot of the art thing is lost. It shouldn’t just be about money. It should be about loving what you do.”

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