February 7, 1964: The Beatles First US Visit

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theedsullivanshowFrom the moment that Pan American flight 101 touched down on February 7, 1964, at about 1:30 p.m. at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York (recently renamed for the president who was assassinated the previous November), rock ‘n’ roll music and America became forever changed. The Beatles had arrived in New York to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and play their first U.S. tour.

The band had no idea how America would receive them. But just before touching down, McCartney recalls, “The pilot had rung ahead and said, ‘Tell the boys there’s a big crowd waiting for them.’” Some 3,000 to 6,000 fans who’d been alerted by local radio stations were gathered, many on the rooftop observation deck of the terminal, most of them girls who were screaming as soon as the jet taxied up.

The media assembled for a press conference was another matter – cynical and out for blood. But the good-natured and witty banter of the Fab Four won them over.

Watch a portion of the press conference

During their limo ride into Manhattan, the Beatles enjoyed listening to New York radio on the transistor radios they’d each been gifted by Pepsi. They marveled at how, in contrast to England’s staid single signal from the BBC, there were a number of stations playing rock ‘n’ roll, spinning not just the band’s favorite artists but their music as well. “We were so overawed by American radio,” Lennon recalled.

More thousands of fans surrounded the Plaza Hotel, where The Beatles and their party found themselves in the lap of luxury in an 11-room suite on the 12th floor of the famed hotel. But it was also like a gilded cell as the avid fans crowded around the Plaza made it nearly impossible for the band to leave the premises, much less do any sightseeing.

That evening the group went to the Ed Sullivan Show studio on Broadway to rehearse and block out their performance – at least John, Paul and Ringo. Harrison had caught a cold and remained behind to recuperate. Road manager Neil Aspinall strapped on George’s guitar and served as his stand in.

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