BSACAM Hosts Beatles Symposium

On Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music (BSACAM) hosted a conference to commemorate the year 1964 and the Beatles. The Beatles have contributed more than sixty years’ worth of music and history, and this month marks a very special anniversary for the band: it is the 60th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America. 1964 was a monumental year for the group, encompassing their momentous touchdown at the newly christened JFK International Airport on Wednesday, Feb. 7 to their influential debut on the Ed Sullivan Show for 73 million viewers.

This symposium consisted of panels, each dedicated to addressing relevant topics. These topics included the American music scene pre-Beatles, how Beatlemania came about, and why the Beatles matter today. Among some familiar Monmouth faces—including Professor of English and Popular Music Ken Womack, Ph.D.; Professor of History and Anthropology Ken Campbell, Ph.D.; Curator for BSACAM and Adjunct Professor of Public History Melissa Ziobro; Founding Executive Director of BSACAM Robert Santelli; and Director of BSACAM Eileen Chapman—the event featured authors Bruce Spizer and Rob Sheffield, SiriusXM hosts Tom Frangione and Dennis Elsas, and New Jersey musicians Jim Babjak of The Smithereens and Glen Burtnik and Bob Burger of The Weeklings.

The real treat of this symposium was the presence of May Pang who was a personal assistant turned girlfriend of John Lennon’s in the mid 1970s. Each of the participants had their own piece of history to contribute, whether it be their personal experience of watching the Ed Sullivan Show as a kid or the stories they have collected over time through writing books or hosting interviews.

The day was brought to a finish with an acoustic performance by Burtnik and Burger, which resulted in a room-wide Beatles sing-a-long. After the first few songs, Burtnik and Burger decided to scrap their setlist and open the offer to the crowd to call out requests. Despite being a symposium dedicated to 1964, the crowd was treated to on-theme selections including “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” as well as more deep cuts including “I’m a Loser,” “Rocky Raccoon,” and “All I’ve Got to Do.” Burger surprised the crowd by aptly retrieving his harmonica to channel his inner John Lennon.

“The Lennon-McCartney team is one of the great songwriting teams of the 20th century. There’s plenty of reason to understand their music and to appreciate it more,” said Santelli. “1964 Beatles changed our pop culture, it changed fashion, it changed hairstyle, it changed the importance of music in our lives, and most importantly, it gives us hope.” Santelli also noted the growing appreciation for the Beatles across generations and how more and more young generations are turning to the Beatles. For some, it might be an emotional connection with their parents or grandparents who are fans, but for all, it’s about exploration of the past and seeing the significance this band holds now over 60 years since their debut.

This multigenerational appreciation for bands like the Beatles aims to be cherished and supported through the new coming state-of-the-art Archives building that will house a theater where future symposia can be hosted.