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NYC celebrates Beatles 50th Anniversary with four concerts for charity

by Katie Hickox

Over 90 amazing performing bands, artists and celebrity presenters from all over the world recently came together last weekend to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles in New York City by performing at a series of four concerts for charity held over four consecutive nights, February 6th through 9th. Each concert was held at a different historic venue in NYC, starting with the Apollo Theatre on Feb 6th, the Hudson Theatre on Feb 7th, Town Hall on Feb 8th and the Bitter End on Feb 9th. All performers donated their time and 100% of the net proceeds from ticket sales was used to raise money for three non-profits: the Food Bank for NYC, Autism Think Tank, and the Children's Music Fund.

The concert series was originally conceived by NYC FAB 50 Executive Producer Danny Levine two years ago and then was organized by his business partner, Charles F. Rosenay, the other NYC Fab50 Executive Producer, over the past four months. They wanted to put on a series of concerts that would appeal to all New Yorkers, not just the diehard Beatles fans, and also raise money for charity at the same time.

Photo by Will Croxton

The first concert, "Twist and Shout: New York Celebrates the Beatles," took place at the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem on Feb 6th, ran over 4 hours, and had the most diverse, comprehensive and most eclectic artists of the series. With acts ranging from rhythm and blues (R&B), soul, blues, rap, jazz and even pop, this very special concert offered something for everyone so that all New Yorkers could fully celebrate the Beatles 50th anniversary their way by transforming Beatles songs performed into different genres. Each act was allowed to perform 2 songs, one was a song of their own choosing, and the second song was a Beatles or Beatles-themed song.

The historic and recently renovated Apollo Theatre was and continues to be a place where many of the great R&B, soul, blues artists perform, many of whom made a great impression upon the Beatles. When the Beatles started out, they recorded cover versions of classics such as "Long Tall Sally," "Kansas City," "Matchbox," "Please Mr. Postman," "Slow Down," "You Really Got a Hold on Me," and "Rock & Roll Music," all written by Black Americans. John Lennon also performed live on stage at the Apollo Theatre in December 1971 at a concert to raise money for Attica State Prison legal defense fund, and Paul McCartney did a concert for Sirius radio there a few years ago.

TV Personality and talk show host Geraldo Rivera opened the show by reading a letter that George Martin had written expressly for the first "Twist and Shout" concert at the Apollo Theatre. In an excerpt from that letter, Martin reflects back on the historic 50th anniversary of The Beatles' first NYC visit:

"The wonderful people of America took the Beatles into their hearts and never let go. They were crazy days, and I remember being in New York and listening to the radio, and no matter where you turned the dial you would hear the Beatles singing. It was complete saturation, never before heard and never since."

Over the course of that first evening at the Apollo, big named entertainers lit up the stage singing two songs each, ranging from Mary Wilson of the Supremes who sang "You Can"t Hurry Love" and John Lennon's "Imagine," to actor/singer Danny Aiello who performed a creative duet with rapper Hassan on "Let It Be." The audience went wild when renowned music composer Frank Previte (who was also the evening's concert bandmaster with his band The Brotherhood) partnered with singer Lisa Sherman to deliver the huge hit song "The Time of My Life" he wrote for the movie "Dirty Dancing."

Lloyd Price, Bobby Hebb's daughter Kitoto, Barbara Harris of The Toys, Margaret Ross Williams, Barrence Whitfield and Bettye LaVette also did impressive Beatles renditions.

Gary U.S. Bonds sang some of his own great hits, "Quarter to 3", and "This Little Girl", in addition to The Beatles' "It"s Only Love" which is known as having been written mostly by John Lennon.

Actress and singer Leslie Uggams was larger than life on stage and sang "Yesterday" with a jazzy interlude of her song "Yesterday Is," but it was UK sixties pop legend Lulu who stole the show when she sang her hit songs which made her famous, "To Sir With Love" along with her hit that The Beatles covered live, "Shout." She also shared with the audience how John Lennon and Paul McCartney were instrumental in helping her become a big star because it was John and Paul who saw her perform her no-holds-barred version of the Isley Brothers' "Shout" in May 1964, loved her performance and soon after, they were interviewed on a popular UK TV show and said she was their favorite new singer. As a result, according to Lulu, she was catapulted to fame at the early age of 15. Lulu rarely tours the US, so seeing her perform for the first time was unforgettable and priceless.

Lulu performing at the Apollo

The concert ended with the many performers joining together to sing the Beatles "All You Need Is Love" with help from the audience.

The first concert, of all the four concerts, was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Charles Rosenay believes that "the Apollo Theatre has the most incredible acoustics of any theatre I have ever heard...and I have attended many concerts and produced many shows" over the decades he's been involved with the music industry and Liverpool Tours sightseeing. Special guest legendary singer Dionne Warwick and John Lennon performer Hal Bruce of Canada were both planning on attending but both couldn't make because of bad weather conditions. Opening acts Charlie Guitar and Italy's "Two of Us," combined with so many gifted performers, made sure the audience didn't miss Warwick or Bruce.

The second concert in the series, "Across the Universe: A Beatles Music Festival" was held the next evening on Friday Feb 7th at the more intimate Hudson Theatre in Times Square where the likes of Elvis Presley and Barbara Streisand performed, and also where Steve Allen"s original Tonight Show took place; this concert lasted about 3 hours. "Across the Universe" was also a thrill to attend after Thursday night"s R&B/soul/jazz tour de force at the Apollo because it consisted of some of the very best Beatles" tribute bands who came from around the world to do cover versions of Beatles songs, including the top-billed and well known music group "Spin Doctors" who played Beatles songs their way, in addition to doing a few of their best known hit singles such as "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" and "Two Princes." Because there were fewer performers Friday, each performing artist or group performed more than just 2 songs, with "Spin Doctors" having the longest set: "I Want You," "Why Don"t We Do It In the Road," "I Want To Be Your Man," their two hits, plus "Revolution" and "I've Got a Feeling."

The following evening, on Saturday, Feb 8th, the third concert "America Celebrates the Beatles" took place at The Town Hall, a Broadway theater by Times Square. It featured 30 different performers and according to Charles Rosenay "was a rock n roll version of the first concert at the Apollo Theatre" with a mix of Beatles tribute bands and well known celebrity recording artists such as Al Jardine of the Beach Boys, Tommy James, Marshall Crenshaw and so many others doing Beatles covers and their own hits. Each performing group was limited to playing a few songs as with the Apollo Theatre "Twist and Shout" concert.

In addition, the Saturday night concert had on hand several well known celebrities such as Charles Grodin, Tony Perkins and the Amazing Kreskin who each took turns as emcees during the four hour long show that ended at 12:30pm. Al Jardine sang his classic "Help Me Ronda" and ended the concert with a performance of "With a Little Help From My Friends" from the Sgt Pepper album which the audience, as well as all the artists, joined in to help Jardine sing.

Lastly, the fourth concert, "Across the Universe: Beatles Music Festival Finale," took place Sunday, Feb 9th at New York City's oldest rock club, The Bitter End, which was the smallest venue of the four concerts with only 250 seats, located in Greenwich Village. This last concert provided an opportunity for those performing artists who were mostly Beatles themed music and couldn't perform at the previous 3 concerts. The artists were made up of both Beatles tribute bands and non-Beatles bands and performers that had come from all over the world to perform at this concert. Closing act "Sons of Origin" are an originals band, like Spin Doctors, who came onboard to perform Beatles songs, and they pulled it off with the best of them. Look out for them in the future. They ended their set with a rousing rendition of "Got to Get You Into My Life" in which they got all the other acts on stage with them: Charlie Guitar, Two of Us, The Clover (from Japan), Jukebox (from Puerto Rico), Dressed to Kiss (from Italy) and Lucy (from Germany).

At each of the four concerts, the aforementioned "Charlie Guitar" (Chuck Lore), was the first performer to open up each show and he played a set of mellow, soothing jazzy instrumentals of Beatles" songs solo on acoustic guitar. Look out Laurence Juber!

Many thanks to UBS for being a sponsor and making it possible to put on this series of concerts to help New Yorkers have a very special celebration for the 50th anniversary of The Beatles'" first visit to the U.S. and also raise money for non-profits. Thanks also to Beatles artist Shannon who did the event's logos, graphics and set design. Above all, many thanks to Executive Producers Charles F. Rosenay and Danny Levine of Liverpool Tours who spent many sleepless nights producing these concerts on and arranging for so many talented performers to come together from all over the world. Bravo Charles and Danny!

When asked why they put on so many concerts, Charles replied, "We"re insane!" But the real reason is their love for The Beatles and because, like us, they're true fans first.

Lastly, thanks to all the talented and wonderful performers who donated their time and energy to make all four concerts a phenomenal success! Don't miss Charles' and Danny's next concert project to celebrate John Lennon"s 75th birthday this October in Danbury, Connecticut by checking their website.


Published February 14, 2014

This article is Copyright © 2014, Katie Hickox, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission



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