Washington’s best Beatles artist looks back on what the band meant to her

John Kelly
Columnist February 12

In the autumn of 1964, Lyn Sisler sat down with some graphite art pencils and heavy bond paper and started to draw the things she loved the most: the Beatles .

Lyn was 15 and lived in Bethesda. She was a star in Sister Edith’s art class at Immaculata High School, and drawing the Beatles had become an obsession. Lyn would frequently prop up an album cover or a photo from a magazine and sketch the band: the freshets of dark hair, Ringo’s baleful countenance, John’s almost Asian eyes . . .

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“I just drew them constantly,” said Lyn, now 65, who lives in West Virginia.

These particular drawings were different, though, worth taking her time on. Washington radio station WEAM was sponsoring a Beatles art contest. The winner would be honored on Oct. 10, 1964, at a battle of the bands at the Washington Coliseum, the same place the Beatles had made their American concert debut eight months earlier.

“I never thought I would win in a million years,” said Lyn. But she did. Her four drawings were printed in the “Salute to the Beatles” program, which sold for 50 cents. Lyn got to go to the Coliseum to watch the show and decide on her prize: a $200 U.S. Savings Bond or a trip to Shea Stadium in New York City to see the Beatles perform.


Lyn Sisler, at her home in Bakerton, W.Va. In 1964, Lyn was a 15-year-old living in Bethesda and won a contest to draw the Beatles. Her four charcoal Beatles portraits were printed in the program of an Oct. 10, 1964, battle of the bands at Washington Coliseum to pick “America’s answer to the Beatles.” (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

“I took the money,” Lyn said.

Let us pause to think about what the Beatles meant to 15-year-old girls in 1964 — or to this particular 15-year-old girl, anyway. The boys Lyn knew back then, she said, were interested in four things: beer, cars, money and sports. Well, five, if you counted what they were interested in when it came to girls.

The Beatles, though, were different. To Lyn, they seemed creative, arty. They were funny, irreverent. Their songs somehow combined elements of the music that Lyn loved: Everly Brothers harmonies wedded to a James Brown beat. “When the Beatles came along, their music just completely floored me,” she said.

Lyn dreamed of marrying George, her favorite, but honestly she was happy being at a remove from reality. With her friend Joan, she had attended the historic Feb. 11, 1964, Beatles concert in Washington. She’d hated it. Not only could she not hear the music over the screaming, she’d had to endure the effect the Beatles had on some people. Lyn saw girls vomiting from overexcitement. Others passed out, bloodying their lips as they hit the ground. When the concert was over, the sharp tang of urine filled the air. Many girls had wet themselves.

“We preferred the fantasy to the horrible reality of the concert,” Lyn said. But in that intersection of fantasy and reality — while she was listening to their music — the Beatles became something more than a band.

“I feel like they came at a very awkward and sensitive point in my life,” Lyn said. “Being a young teenage girl can be humiliating. There’s a lot of angst that comes with that time of life. They just floated me with their music. They were a gift.”

Not everyone agreed. The nuns at Immaculata hated rock-and-roll. “I think I may have gotten a perfunctory congratulations from Sister Edith” after winning the Beatles art contest, “but begrudgingly,” Lyn said. “To them, the Beatles were the Devil’s work.”

After she graduated from Immaculata in 1966, Lyn stopped drawing the Beatles. She kept listening to them, though, watching their music evolve, evolving with it.

She went to the University of Maryland, majored in art and was exposed to other bands: Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Byrds, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones.

“It was an explosion of music that happened,” Lyn said.

It was music that made you think about your life and about what your life could be.

She got married, gave birth to a daughter, got divorced. She taught art for a while, then restored historic homes, then grew herbs.

Now Lyn works as a traveling art teacher, visiting students who, for various reasons, are homebound. “It’s one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had,” she said.

She works with the youngsters on whatever they want to draw. Tattoo designs. Graffiti.

“The Beatles will always be Number One to me,” Lyn said. “I can be somewhere and hear a Beatles song, and I am right back there.”

Back there with a pencil and some paper, drawing the Beatles, drawing her future.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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