By Tim Reid
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr led a star-studded rendition of the classic Beatles song “Hey Jude” in Los Angeles on Monday night as they commemorated 50 years since the record-breaking British band first appeared on U.S. television.
In a rare joint appearance singing Beatles numbers, McCartney and Starr were flanked on stage by artists including Stevie Wonder, R&B singer Alicia Keys and country singer Keith Urban to celebrate the night in 1964 when The Beatles were watched by 73 million Americans on the Ed Sullivan Show.
In a concert being filmed for “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles,” McCartney and Starr paid special tribute to their former band members, John Lennon and George Harrison. Lennon was shot and killed in 1980. Harrison died of cancer in 2001.
“We were in a band called The Beatles and whenever we play George and John are always with us,” Starr told the crowd. McCartney said: “Tonight we are remembering our beautiful friends John and George.”
The Beatles, wearing black suits and mop top hair, appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964, to screaming crowds in what became a seminal moment for the British band, and U.S. television. Nearly 50 percent of American households with televisions tuned in.
Technicians on the Ed Sullivan set 50 years ago were broadcast at Monday night’s tribute explaining that the “crowd shot” was born that night in 1964. The teenage audience was so hysterical that a camera was devoted entirely to their reaction, a television first.
McCartney, playing guitar, and Starr on drums, brought Monday night’s tribute to a rousing close both with “Hey Jude” and another classic Beatles song, “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
They were watched by Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, 80, and Harrison’s widow, Olivia. The last time McCartney and Starr performed Beatles songs together was to celebrate Starr’s 70th birthday, in 2010.
In a three hour tribute before they appeared, a series of artists performed Beatles numbers.
British pop duo Eurythmics – singer Annie Lennox and musician Dave Stewart – reunited to perform “The Fool on the Hill”, and U.S. singer Katy Perry sang a version of “Yesterday”.
Oscar-winning actors Tom Hanks, Jeff Bridges and Sean Penn were among a Hollywood crowd which danced along to the music.
Even the Beatles’ backing musicians were not anonymous journeymen: they included The Eagles’ Joe Walsh and singer-songwriter Peter Frampton.
The 50th anniversary tribute will air on CBS on Feb. 9.
(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Mike Collett-White)