Sid Bernstein was born in New York City in 1918, and was adopted by a Russian Jewish family. He studied journalism at Columbia University, before working in a ballroom and joining the US Army in 1943. During World War II, he was stationed in Britain, and also served in France with the 602nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion of the United States Army. After the end of the war he returned to New York and became the manager of mambo musician Esy Morales, as well as acting as a booking agent. He started work for the General Artists Corporation (GAC), and by the early 1960s was working as a booking agent for pop stars such as Dion and Chubby Checker.
Bernstein claimed responsibility for helping to start the British Invasion, by first bringing The Beatles over to the United States from Britain. An Anglophile, he contacted Brian Epstein in early 1963, having read about the group in British newspapers, and, after persuading Epstein that they could be successful in the US, booked Carnegie Hall for their first appearance, without informing the venue of their style of music. In late December 1963, the unknown Beatles were introduced to the Tidewater area of Virginia. Almost every other song played by the area’s DJs were Beatle records, accompanied by giveaways of shirts, etc. The following month in very early January 1964, the same phenomenon occurred, as the Beatles were introduced to the New York City area complemented by all sorts of contests and gifts. They played at Carnegie Hall on February 12, 1964, after their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Bernstein also booked them at Shea Stadium, a concert that Bernstein described as “inaudible.” After the group retired from touring and later split up, Bernstein made many attempts to persuade them to re-form, at one point taking out full-page newspaper articles asking them to perform together for charity.
During the Beatles Shea concert, Bernstein had the phrase “The Rascals are coming!” displayed on the Shea Stadium scoreboard. “I had met the Rascals in the summer of ’65; I put their name up on the scoreboard (at Shea) – ‘The Rascals are coming! The Rascals are coming!’ A lot of people who hadn’t seen pictures of them thought they were a black group. I sensed something big about them.” He worked with the Rascals for five years, helping along their rise from obscurity, changing their name from “The Rascals” to “The Young Rascals” in an attempt to avoid controversy because of a similar named group.
Bernstein also brought British bands including The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Moody Blues, and The Kinks to America. He also organized concerts for Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Laura Nyro, Laura Branigan, Melanie and Sly & the Family Stone. James Brown said that Bernstein “was in the forefront of race relations” by booking African-American musicians during the 1960s. In 1964, he brought many Israeli singers to the United States for their first major concerts, among them Shoshana Damari, Shaike Ophir and Yaffa Yarkoni, who appeared at Carnegie Hall a year after the Beatles. He was the first to stage a rock show at Madison Square Garden. Bernstein died on August 21, 2013 in Manhattan, aged 95. He was survived by his wife Geraldine Gale; and their four sons, two daughters and six grandchildren.
- August, 12, 1918
- New York City, New York
- August, 21, 2013
- New York City, New York