Beatles Storm America

Beatles Storm America  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Christie's.

“Good evening, Washington!” Paul McCartney shouted into the microphone from the stage of the Washington D.C. Coliseum.  From the start of the Beatles first song, “Roll Over Beethoven,” the crowd, mostly teenagers, were hysterical. 

We thought we were the best before anybody else had even heard us, back in Hamburg and Liverpool.
— John Lennon

Several dozen police lined the stage and tackled fans as they lunged toward the band members.  It took 350 policemen to keep the crowd of 8,000 in check.   

It didn’t matter that the acoustics in the Coliseum were bad.  It didn’t matter the stage was postage-stamp-size.  It didn’t matter the equipment had to be rearranged in a hurry after every song. 

Boundaries melted in the arena that night and a love affair between audience and band was cemented.  The performance lasted only 28 minutes.  By most reports the audience couldn’t even hear the music over the crowd.  But the Beatles first U.S. concert ended and a cultural phenomenon was born.    

Ringo Starr’s arms and head flailed all over the place as he drummed.  Like a man possessed, it was unlike anything anyone had witnessed before from the usually contained drummer.  

Drenched in sweat backstage Ringo said, “They could have ripped me apart and I wouldn’t have cared.  What an audience!”

It was just two days since the Fab Four made their first U.S. appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”  About 73 million viewers watched the show.  It was the perfect vehicle for launching the Beatles in America.

“I could understand the girls screaming,” said Thelma Pickles, John Lennon’s ex-girlfriend.  “The Beatles were hugely attractive, quite raw, and unobtainable.  Besides, you couldn’t dance at these concerts in theaters so you had to do something—how else could you get rid of all that energy and desire.”

“We thought we were the best before anybody else had even heard us, back in Hamburg and Liverpool,” John Lennon said.

There would be no creative boundaries for the Beatles.  They went with their instincts.  The more they experimented with music, the better they got.  And their fan base was willing to travel along with them on their magical mystery tour.    

In the crowd at the Coliseum that first concert was 18-year-old Mike Mitchell.  He managed to score a press pass from a small local magazine for which he had done some work.  Up close and personal he photographed the Feb. 11, 1964 Washington concert, even got on stage during the press conference before the gig.  He also photographed the Beatles Sept. 13, 1964, performance at the Baltimore Civic Center. 

From his negatives Mitchell who works as an art photographer now in Washington made 50 silver gelatin prints of the events.  The negatives had been stored for years in a box in his basement.  He hadn’t thought much about the photos until recently.  For the prints in the auction, he used digital technology to do what he said was much better darkroom work that could have been done in a traditional darkroom.

There aren’t many photos around from the Beatles first American concert.  That’s what makes these black-and-white shots particularly desirable.

On July 20, Christie’s, New York, sold Mitchell’s 50 unpublished, never-before-seen photos in The Beatles Illuminated: The Discovered Works of Mike Mitchell sale.

The Beatles Gelatin Silver Prints

Ringo’s Drum Set; signed and numbered; 7 inches by 10 ¾ inches;  $16,250.

John and Paul Playing Guitar; signed and numbered; 20 inches by 13 inches;  $16,250.

Four Beatles Sitting at Table; signed and numbered; 22 inches by 14 inches;  $16,250.

John and Paul Performing at Microphone; signed and numbered; 11 inches by 7 ¼ inches;  $30,000.

Backlit shot of the band taken while Mitchell stood directly behind them; 16 inches by 16 ¼ inches;  $68,500.   

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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