Carroll County Times
Carroll County

The Fab Four came to America 50 years ago with the help of a Maryland teenager

oday marks 50 years since the Beatles first appeared in America on "The Ed Sullivan Show" to the delight of 73 million TV viewers primed to be entertained. Although Beatlemania had already overtaken the United Kingdom, it might not have spread to the United States without the support of renowned journalist Walter Cronkite and a 15-year-old girl from Silver Spring who sent the group's music viral.

Beatles go viral

According to Al Sussman's book "Changin' Times: 101 Days That Shaped a Generation," a "CBS Evening News" segment about the British band was originally scheduled to air on the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Cronkite held the story a few weeks until he felt the time was right to air something lighter for a grieving nation. Maryland teenager Marsha Albert saw the news segment and wrote a letter to Washington, D.C., disc jockey Carroll James asking, "Why can't we have this music in America?"

James played the single "I Want to Hold your Hand," which became an immediate hit in the capital region. The single spread throughout the country until John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr became household names, prompting Sullivan to invite the group on his show.


Musical origins

The nation went crazy for the "new sound." However, local music expert Walt Michael said that was a misnomer. Although the Beatles had undeniable star power, he said the sound itself was not new. It was African-American music reprocessed in the U.K. before coming back to where it began, said Michael, who is executive director of Common Ground on the Hill in Westminster.

"Not to take away from them as artists," said Michael - the group had its own sound, but it became much more interesting as it evolved over the years. He pointed out how the group's music changed from the album released just before the band's Sullivan appearance, "With The Beatles," to "Rubber Soul" in 1965 to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" in 1967.

The influence of the "Fifth Beatle," George Martin, was also a big part of the group's success, Michael said. The classically trained and gifted musician worked in the studio on almost everything the Beatles released, he said.


The Beatles fit in with the zeitgeist of an intense time in American history. The culture was changing and the Beatles "had us look at ourselves a little more closely," Michael said.

With over 600 million records sold worldwide, the Beatles are thought to be the bestselling band in history. They hold the record for the most number-one hits on "Billboard's Hot 100" chart. The group has been awarded 10 Grammy Awards and in 2004, Rolling Stone named them the greatest artists of all time.