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Promoter who brought Beatles to Shea dies at 95

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Sid Bernstein, the music promoter who brought the Beatles to America, died Wednesday.

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Sid Bernstein, the music promoter who brought the Beatles to America, died Wednesday.

NEW YORK -- Sid Bernstein, the misty-eyed music promoter who booked such top acts as Jimi Hendrix, Judy Garland and the Rolling Stones and hit the highest heights when he masterminded the Beatles' historic concerts at Shea Stadium and Carnegie Hall, died Wednesday. He was 95.

Bernstein's daughter, Casey Deutsch, said that he died in his sleep at Lenox Hill Hospital. She cited no specific illness.

For decades, the squat, floppy-haired Bernstein excelled like few others at being everywhere and knowing everybody. He worked with Garland, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles, promoted Dion, Bobby Darin and Chubby Checker, and managed Esy Morales, the Rascals and Ornette Coleman. He was an early backer of ABBA, setting up the Swedish group's first American appearances. He helped revive Tony Bennett's career with a 1962 show at Carnegie Hall.

A master of shmooze, Bernstein also had a studious side that led to his biggest break. He took a course on Western civilization at the New School for Social Research that required students to read a British newspaper once a week. It was 1963, and the Beatles were just catching on in their native country.

"This was the right time to be reading an English newspaper," he explained in a 2001 interview with the music publication 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."'

The 1965 show at Shea Stadium was rock's first major stadium concert and its all-time primal scream. With some 55,000 fans losing their voices and their minds on an August night, the show broke box-office records and likely some sound barriers.

Like so many in the music business, Bernstein was the hustling son of Jewish immigrants, born on Manhattan's Upper East Side, raised in Harlem and hooked on sound and rhythm. He sneaked into the Apollo Theater as a boy, booked local acts in high school and, while studying journalism at Columbia University, ran a ballroom in Brooklyn that featured such Latino stars as Morales, Tito Puente and Marcelino Guera.

Bernstein was connected to all kinds of music, getting Charles, the Drifters and Bo Diddley for a show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre; rounding up Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson and Tom Paxton for a folk festival at Carnegie Hall; arranging a jazz concert that featured Ellington, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane.

Over the past 20 years, Bernstein's best client became himself. He wrote two memoirs, It's Sid Bernstein Calling and Not Just the Beatles, gave frequent talks about his life and even recorded an album of duets. At age 90, he started a Twitter account, sending regards to Ben Stiller and Lenny Kravitz, reporting on his lunch at the 2nd Avenue Deli and catching up with Beatles fans.

"Twitterland!" he called out in one post. "Let's all have a productive week. I have a few very interesting projects in the works and I'll reveal them very soon."

Bernstein and his wife, Geraldine, were married for more than 40 years. They had six children.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2013 C16

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