The Beatles

When the Beatles first came to the U.S. in 1964, primarily to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York on February 9th, 1964, they also performed two live concerts.  The first of these concerts — and their first ever in the U.S. — was performed in Washington, D.C. at the Washing- ton Coliseum on February 11th.  Not to be confused with an outdoor athletic-type coliseum, the Washington Coliseum was an indoor arena where professional and college basketball teams played.  Originally built in 1941, it was first named the Uline Arena when it hosted hockey games.  It was renamed the Washington Coliseum in 1959.  It held a capacity crowd of about 7,000 people.  Although the building still stands today near Washington’s Union Station, it is now used as an indoor parking garage. However, it is a protected property by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, and is slated for redevelopment.  In the 1960s it hosted a variety of music acts and concerts, of which the Beatles’ February 11th, 1964 concert was one.

The Beatles also made another live concert appearance during their February 1964 U.S. visit – at New York City’s Carnegie Hall on February 12th.  In New York there were two shows, but in Washington, only one.  However, the D.C. performance was filmed in black and white video by CBS with the permission of the Beatles’ then manager, Brian Epstein.  This filmed version of the live D.C. performance was then packaged into a “closed-circuit” offering by a private company to be aired several weeks later at selected theaters across the U.S.  More detail on this follows below.  But first, the Washington performance.

Beatles’ D.C. Concert

The February 11th, 1964 concert at the Washington Coliseum, located at 3rd and M Streets N.E., occurred during a cold and snowy night.  It was the Beatles’ first live American performance after their televised appearance on the CBS Ed Sullivan Show.  They had arrived in D.C. earlier that day by train from New York. Before their show that evening, they also appeared at a brief press conference. At show time, there was a sold-out, over-capacity crowd of 8,000 fans, by one count.  Before the Beatles came on, there were three other opening acts. The Caravelles did their hit “You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry,” Tommy Roe did “Shelia,” and The Chiffons did “He’s So Fine” and “One Fine Day.”  When the Beatles came on, the place erupted with screaming and incessant flash bulbs.  The Beatles played for nearly an hour.  Because of the set up in the Coliseum, the Beatles were essentially performing on a boxing ring-type stage, and had to move their equipment around on stage a few times in order to give everyone in the audience a chance to see them.  Ringo was seen moving his drum set around on stage between sets.

The Closed-Circuit Concerts

However, about a month later, in mid-March 1964, the CBS filming of the Beatles’ live D.C. show – together with separate footage of performances by the Beach Boys and Lesley Gore – was shown in selected U.S. movie theaters as a closed-circuit concert.  Billed in advertising as — “The Beatles: Direct From Their First American Concert” — the complete 90-minute film was then transmitted to selected U.S. theaters over telephone lines on four separate occasions over two weekends in March.

The first round of closed circuit concerts occurred on Saturday, March 14, 1964, and among the receiving theater locations on that day were: the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Hippodrome Theater in Cleveland, Ohio; the El Monte Legion Stadium in El Monte, California; the Public Auditorium in Portland, Oregon, and possibly others. The following day, on Sunday, March 15, 1964, the show went out again to a number of locations, including: the Norva Theater in Norfolk, Virginia; Lake Theater in Oak Park, Illinois; Fox Theater in San Jose, California; and the Washington Coliseum in Washington, D.C. The Lyric Theater in Indianapolis, Indiana also received the show on March 14th and/or March 15th.

It is not known here what the total audience was for the several days of closed-circuit broadcasts that ranged across the U.S.  However, there is some indication that the promoters – only identified as the National General Corpo- ration in advertising – made millions.  One 1964 estimate placed the take at some $4 million (roughly equal to $30 million in today’s money).

Excerpts from the film have shown up in numerous video compilations, including The Beatles Anthol- ogy.  In 2003, a company named Passport released a DVD entitled The Beatles in Washington D.C., February 11, 1964.

Sources, Links & Additional Information:

Jerry Doolittle, “Beatles Arrive, Teen-Agers Shriek, Police Do Their Duty, and That’s That,”The Washington Post-Times Herald, February 12, 1964, p. 1.

You Tube clip:  This 9:59 minute clip of the Beatles at the Washington Coliseum pans the theater marquee, has audience shots, and includes three Beatles songs: “She Loves You,”  “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “Please, Please Me.”

John S. Wilson, “2,900-Voice Chorus Joins the Beatles; Audience Shrieks and Bays and Ululates,” New York Times, February 13, 1964.

“Potential $4 Million Box Office For Beatles On Closed Circuit TV,” Broadcasting, February 24, 1964.

Myra MacPherson, “Help! The Day The Mania Came To Washington,” Washington Post, February 7, 1984.

For more detail on Beatles’ tickets, see: “Closed-Circuit Telecast Tickets,”

Jeff Shannon, Review of Beach Boys “Lost Concert” DVD (June 1999)

Richie Unterberger, “The Beatles at the Washington Coliseum, Washington, DC, February 11, 1964.” See also his book, The Unreleased Beatles: Music and Film, available at Amazon and other booksellers.