Sid Bernstein, the producer and promoter who started the British invasion to America with the Rolling Stones, Beatles and Herman’s Hermits, told me how he was introduced to the world of music.
His parents, Israel and Ida, came from a shtetl near Kiev, Ukraine. “I was raised in Harlem by my grandmother. She used to take me to see Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt at a nearby synagogue.” A child prodigy, Rosenblatt was acclaimed as the Jewish Caruso.
From there Bernstein set his sights on rock ‘n’ roll. He read in the British papers about the rise of the Beatles. He made a deal with their Jewish manager, Brian Epstein, to bring the group to Carnegie Hall on Feb. 12, 1964.
Before the group landed on these shores, Ed Sullivan asked Bernstein what he thought of them. He assured the TV host that they were going to be the biggest attraction in the world. Three days before the Carnegie Hall concert, Sullivan rushed to introduce the Beatles to America on his CBS variety show.
Following his Beatles triumph, Bernstein set out to discover other rock groups. For three years he managed the Rascals, who hailed from New Jersey and New York. Their “Groovin’” became the biggest song in the country. He also promoted such stars as Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Ray Charles, Dion, Bobby Darin and Chubby Checkers.
After Bernstein returned from scouting new talent in Britain in 1988, he told me he had Shabbos dinner with Brian Epstein’s mother in Liverpool. Brian, the mastermind behind the Beatles’ success, had died in 1967 of an accidental drug overdose.
“His mother keeps kosher and is very Orthodox,” Bernstein said. “Her other son, Clive, is in real estate. He’s also Orthodox. In fact, his son and two daughters attend a cheder [Jewish religious school].”
Bernstein never stopped looking for talent. In 2008 he attended a concert of Beatles music at the 92nd Street Y where he met with an enthusiastic young group calling itself the Backwards, a parody of the Beatles.
“I wanted another Beatles. There will never be another Beatles.”
Sid Bernstein died of natural causes on Aug. 21 at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. He was 95.