MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir, and this week, we're tipping our fuzzy woolen hats to winter 2014. As we continue our "Out In the Cold" show, we'll return to a wintry day nearly 50 years ago. February 11th, 1964. Nearly eight inches of snow covered the ground that day, and temperature were bottoming out in the low 20s. But that didn't stop 8,092 Washingtonians, primarily screaming female teenagers, from trekking to the Washington Coliseum in Northeast D.C. to experience this.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
This is Harold (unintelligible) . And now, from the Washington D.C. Coliseum, the world's most exciting group. Capitol recording stars, The Beatles.
Indeed, two days after making their debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show," The Beatles performed their first full North American concert here, in the nation's capital. After several opening acts, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr entered a ropeless boxing ring, smack dab in the middle of the Coliseum's floor, and played for about 35 minutes. But, how is it that Washington, D.C. came to host this momentous event?
Well, to find out we have to go back to late 1963, when CBS aired the first American news story about The Beatles. It was filed by London correspondent Alexander Kendrick.
MR. ALEXANDER KENDRICK
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Those are The Beatles, those are. And this is Beatleland, formerly known as Britain, where an epidemic called Beatlemania has seized the teenage population, especially female.
MR. CARROLL JAMES
About two days later, I got a letter from a listener. Marsha Albert, 15 years old, Sligo Junior High School. She said, I saw this on television the other night, and if these guys are so great, why can't we hear their music here?
This is WWDC disc jockey Carroll James from a 1984 interview with WWDC successor, DC101. James wound up emceeing the Coliseum concert in February of '64, but back in December of '63, when he read Marsha Albert's plea for The Beatles, he said to himself...
Well, there's nothing we won't do for our listeners at WWDC. So, in one or two days, we had hand carried, by a stewardess, this Parlophone record from England of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." And I asked Marsha to come in and introduce it, since she was the one who started the whole thing. I wrote out a little introduction for her, and I'd hand written it out on the back of traffic report. Accident at Second and T Northeast, two vehicles involved, you know?
And so, she read the introduction to the first Beatle record in the United States.
So, Marsha Albert of Dublin Drive, of Silver Spring, has the honor of introducing something brand new. An exclusive here at WWDC. Marsha, the microphone, here on the Carroll James show, is yours.
MS. MARSHA ALBERT
Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time on the air, in the United States, here are The Beatles singing "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
Now, once the folks at The Beatles' label, Capitol Records, who caught wind of this unofficial airing, Carroll James says, they were pretty peeved.
The people at Capitol Records in New York later told me that they were gonna get an injunction against us.
But it wasn't long before they realized, they had a major hit on their hands. So, they moved the song's official US release date up from January 13th, 1964, to shortly after Christmas, 1963. Not long after that, Beatles manager Brian Epstein called up Harry Lynn, owner of the Washington Coliseum, and asked if the band could perform there. It would be the largest venue they'd ever played. Lynn had never actually heard of The Beatles, but he said yes, and ran an ad, just one ad, in The Washington Post.
MR. TOM CARRICO
And tickets were two, three, and four dollars.
Tom Carrico was among the lucky ones who saw that ad and managed to nab tickets. He was 13 years old.
And you do the math, you can figure out just exactly what kind of a card carrying geezer I am now.
I recently met the Bethesda, Maryland native inside the Coliseum, near 3rd and M Streets Northeast, not far from the train tracks.
So, retracing that night, we had a huge snow storm, and The Beatles had to take the train down from New York, instead of fly.
They arrived at Union Station at 3:10 p.m., much to the delight of the 2,000 screaming fans who'd braved the weather to see the lads from Liverpool. The band then hit the Coliseum for a sound check, and as Tom Carrico remembers, for some wintertime fun.
I mean, if you look at some of the photos, you can see them playing out in the snow, throwing snowballs in the parking lot. You know, we probably had a foot of snow, which, you know what a foot of snow does to this town now. Well, imagine 50 years ago.
MS. NAOMI BANKS
This is the picture they took in that yard across the street. Yeah, I watched them when they filmed these pictures.
They're playing in the snow.
Yes. They're playing in the snow.
Naomi Banks has been living on 3rd Street Northeast, directly across from the Washington Coliseum, for decades.
I've been here since 1954, 3,1. It's been a while.
And during those decades, she's compiled a scrapbook from the many events held at the Coliseum, originally known as the Uline Ice Arena.
Stevie Wonder played over there. Paul Robeson sang there, and I got a picture of that somewhere.
Yes. Clipping. I mean, it was just so many people.
But the most memorable people, she says, had to be The Beatles. She was 16, and got to see much of their concert before her parents made her come home.
This man from Texas, he got the original copy of this. These are the songs they played.
So, John Lennon wrote out that list of songs they played, and you have it.
Yes. Well, I have a copy. He has the original one.
The songs are scribbled on stationary from the Shoreham Hotel, where The Beatles had booked the entire seventh floor for the night. The story goes that when one family on that floor refused to relocate, the Shoreham cut off their hot water, electricity and heating, claiming a power failure. So, after the Fab Four checked in, they returned to the Coliseum for a press conference. Then, it was on with the show.
And then 16 year old, Columbia, Maryland resident, Michael Oberman, was there.
MR. MICHAEL OBERMAN
Well, I just remember that because of the way the Coliseum was set up, and the stage was in the center, when I first got there, I thought, oh my gosh, some people are never going to be able to see the front of The Beatles. But they actually moved around on stage, and moved the drum set, and turned so that the entire audience could get to see them at one time or another. As I remember, it was a pretty frenetic and short set. It was maybe 35 minutes, and it was hit after hit.
Indeed, as the crowd lovingly pelted the band with flash bulbs and jelly beans, a confection said to be the fellas' favorite, they performed a dozen hits from "I Saw Her Standing There..."
To "This Boy."
MR. JOHN LENNON
The next song is a track off our Capitol album, and it's called, "This Boy."
To the tune that got the whole ball rolling, "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
MR. PAUL MCCARTNEY
This next song that we'd like to sing, we'd, before we do, we'd like to thank everybody here in America, Washington, America, for -- we'd like to thank everybody for buying this particular record and starting this thing up, in America, and giving us the chance to come here and see you all in Washington. Thank you.
This audio, by the way, is from a black and white CBS video of the concert, later shown as a closed circuit broadcast in many venues, including the Coliseum. The thing is, though, while these clips sound decently clear, folks who were there that night, like Michael Oberman, Naomi Banks, and Tom Carrico, they'll readily admit they could barely hear the music.
This was the days before there were real music venues in D.C. So, you had to settle for places like the Coliseum. And The Coliseum was probably the worst place in Washington for music. It was a big cement barn.
It was pademonious in there. I mean, kids screaming, hollering, crying. I think they was out-screaming the music.
It was a feeling in the room, like an explosion. You know, I've been to probably thousands of concerts. I'm in the music business now. I managed the Nighthawks in the 70s here, and was their booking agent as well, for a long time. And there's nothing I've experienced quite like that night.
Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.
Years later, when Paul McCartney was asked what he remembers from that first North American show, he said, I don't remember thinking we played particularly well. But, looking back, time has been very kind to us. It was a cool gig. The great thing about memories is that the good bits are the ones that tend to remain. The trip to Washington is a very romantic time in my memory. If you'd like to see that CBS concert video in its entirety, the D.C. Music Salon is screening it at The Shaw Library on February 12th, followed by a Q&A with Washingtonians who attended the show.
And on February 11th, the D.C. Preservation League and Douglas Development are presenting a reenactment concert at the Coliseum, featuring the cover band, Beatlemania Now. We have more information about all of it on metroconnection.org.
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