My dad was a real ham and had the uncanny ability to take a timely news event, especially if it related to the popular culture or baseball, and bring it to life. My mom was often the unsuspecting Gracie Allen to his deadpan George Burns. Her sweet and unsuspecting manner as the unwitting accomplice only made the stories of Pete funnier with the patina of time.
Sir Paul McCartney’s receiving of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song brought on a recent wave of nostalgia. McCartney was awarded the prize and performed recently at the White House. The event was aired on PBS. Paul McCartney: In Performance at the White House. Did you see it? Paul McCartney played away on the guitar he used on the Ed Sullivan Show and other artists from country to rock and roll took to the makeshift stage to give their renditions of McCartney’s songs.
The picture was taken on February 15, 1964. I know the date of the photo because it was a week after The Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show to the screaming tears of teenage girls and the utter amazement over what was happening to music by what are now referred to as “the greatest generation”. My family watched that Sunday, February 9, 1964 on our black and white Zenith television; the same television where we all sat in shock the previous November when John Kennedy was shot. I remember feeling as if the Beatles came over to jolt us out of our national grief.
Well, Daddy didn’t miss a beat.
We were at my great aunt’s house. This picture was taken in the dining room of her flat. I’m not sure why we were there and even more curious as to why my grandmother was with us. Yia Yia (not to be confused with Another One, whose house we were at) rarely went out in a car. We know now that she suffered from motion sickness. At the time, there were no over-the-counter drugs to relieve the symptoms that riding in a car brought on. I’ve often wondered in amazement how horrible that long ocean ride must have been for her. At any rate, Yia Yia is sitting on the left, looking none-too-pleased. She had a great sense of humor and would have been an accomplice in my dad’s attire that night, so, I can only think that the long car ride into the city must have had her feeling poorly.
You’ve figured out who the person in the center of the picture is, haven’t you?
Paul McCartney, of course!
The banjo was my mother’s, a toy from her childhood. She kept it in a drawer and would take it out to show us every so often. I was fascinated by it and the story behind it. Ma’s family was large and they were very poor. Each year, there would be one gift for the children to open. The one gift was for all of the children to share. Only one gift. Every year it was the same gift. The banjo. Each child took a turn playing it before going to bed on Christmas Eve. My grandfather would then spend time playing it himself, pushing the button up and down and making a tinny tune.
The picture and the toy banjo sit together on a shelf in our home now – side by side, in perfect harmony.
I think my dad must have been playing “She Loves You” the night of the picture. I know where he got the “guitar” for his gig. I’ve no idea where the mop of hair came from. Out of sight of the camera, we sat, with other relatives who were chatting away in Greek and laughing at their front row seats to The Ed Sullivan Show.
I keep thinking of the Beatles, the banjo, the picture and Paul - and the Gershwin’s, for whom the honor is dedicated. I keep thinking of my dad’s zest for life and the fun we used to have and the love our family shared and I keep thinking of the Gershwin song ”Someone to Watch Over Me”. That song, apart from Paul McCartney’s repertoire, keeps playing in my mind. I love the rendition of it from Mr. Holland’s Opus and thought you might as well.
This is a repost from a few years ago that I decided to revive after reading on The Writer’s Almanac that it was on this date, February 9, 1964, that the Beetles first performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. How well I remember that night, and my father’s own rendition a week later.
“On this day in 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, as teenage girls screamed hysterically in the audience and 73 million people watched from home — a record for American television at the time. Their appearance on the show is considered the beginning of the “British Invasion” of music in the United States. The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show the following two Sundays in a row, as well. On this first time, exactly 49 years ago today, they sang “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and finally “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — which had just hit No. 1 on the charts.” The Writer’s Almanac, February 9, 2013