* Fifty years ago the Beatles took a vacation before starting an American tour. John Lennon went to Paris. Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney headed to Greece. And George Harrison went to Benton, IL to visit his sister…
Illinois State Historical Society executive director William Furry says Harrison’s obscurity allowed him to walk Benton’s streets, jam with local musicians, visit record stores and even camp in the Shawnee National Forest without being hassled by fans. Harrison also bought a guitar in Mount Vernon and sang “Happy Birthday” at a bocce ball club in Benton.
A radio station in nearby West Frankfort played many of the Beatles’ first recordings, and Harrison was interviewed by a local teenager in what has been said to be the first American question-and-answer session with a Beatle.
* Check this out…
Louise Harrison wanted to promote The Beatles’ music with local radio stations.
She had previously been sent a copy of “From Me to You,” that she took to the WFRX-AM radio station in West Frankfort. Disc jockey Marcia Raubach played the song over the airwaves for the first time in the U.S. in June 1963.
When George Harrison visited his sister, the two hitchhiked to the West Frankfort radio station with a copy of “She Loves You,” which had been released the previous month in the United Kingdom. The single was also played by the station.
Can you imagine a Beatle hitchhiking in southern Illinois to promote a single?
* Marilyn Lewis Dickey interviewed Harrison back then for her high school newspaper…
I was editor of the BCHS newspaper, The Echo, during my senior year. My sister Jean had also been an Echo editor.
Louise Caldwell called me and asked if I would like to interview her brother, George Harrison, who was on “Holiday” from England.
She said he was in “a band.” Little did I know what that band was to become.
This was in the fall of 1963 before the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan in the spring. This “band” was not known in the States just yet.
I remember meeting Louise and her brother, George Harrison, on the front porch of the house. My first reaction was that I thought it strange that he had on socks with his sandals.
My next reaction was that his hair seemed long for the style at the time.
We went into the house and I asked him questions about his band and his impressions of the United States.
I don’t remember any of these answers! He then played a 45 rpm record of the band’s latest songs that were popular in England. Those songs were “She Loves Me” and “I Want to Hold your Hand”
You can find lots more details about his visit by clicking here.
* There was also a documentary made about his visit…
* From a press release…
Governor Pat Quinn has proclaimed Sept. 21 as “George Harrison Day” in Illinois to commemorate the late musical star’s two-week stay in southern Illinois 50 years ago, when The Beatles were poised to conquer pop culture and music history. Governor Quinn also urged citizens to attend the Sept. 21 historical marker dedication in Benton that will unveil a permanent reminder of Harrison’s southern Illinois activities as “The First Beatle in America.” Today’s announcement is part of Governor Quinn’s commitment to promote heritage tourism in Illinois.
“Many icons through history have Illinois connections, and we are recognizing one more with this proclamation,” Governor Quinn said. “George Harrison helped define a generation, and we encourage visitors to follow his footsteps throughout southern Illinois.”
The historical marker dedication, hosted by the Franklin County Historic Preservation Society and the Illinois State Historical Society, will be held in Benton’s Capitol Park on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. The marker will describe the regional exploits of a young British musician just months before he and his partners exploded into worldwide fame that is as strong today as it was in 1963.