With the band in '64, as they encounter segregation in Fla.

Broadcaster Larry Kane with McCartney and Lennon. The band vowed not to play a Jacksonville stadium unless it was desegregated; it was.
Broadcaster Larry Kane with McCartney and Lennon. The band vowed not to play a Jacksonville stadium unless it was desegregated; it was. (Courtesy Larry Kane)
Posted: February 10, 2014

Memories: More than 70 concerts. Chaos. An airplane full of pillow fights. Stars in Hollywood. Late-night mysteries. Four "boys" so unusual, with music that would be forever. There is so much I've written about yesterday, when I had little sense of how big they would become. But at one point, I learned there was real courage behind the talent.

Let's return to Aug. 20, 1964, and a room at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. We'd returned to the hotel in between the afternoon and evening concerts.

Press guy Derek Taylor arranged for me to come to a room where the guys were hanging out, and for a change, I had some news for them. My station in Miami had advised me that the management of the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., where they would be playing Sept. 11, 1964, stated firmly that the stadium would be segregated, which was standard at some locations in those days.

As I entered the room, I told the band's manager, Brian Epstein, and the boys about the Jacksonville concert. Paul got up from the sofa and defiantly said, "We are not going to play there." John was even more blunt. He said, "No f- chance of that happening." Ringo and George agreed. Brian stood in silence in the corner of the room, but he knew very well his Fabs would never relent.

In later years, I would learn that the boys had grown up in an atmosphere of ethnic intolerance in Liverpool. To the benefit of the world around them, they outgrew it.

After I finished taping my interviews, I related the band's defiance in a phone report to my station, which distributed it to 51 other stations nationwide. The stage was set for a test of wills that concluded in, of all places, balmy and quiet Key West, Fla.

The segregation issue remained in the background for 20 days. The tour traveled on. Then, on Sept. 9, after a concert in Montreal - amid threats against the group by antiroyalist Quebec separatists - it was time to head to Florida. Things were stormy in more than one way down there: Hurricane Dora and its dangerous winds would be coming close to Jacksonville the night of the Sept. 11 concert.

The band would have a day-plus for a layover, so in the airplane at the Montreal airport, Epstein asked me where the entourage could go to get some peace and quiet. I recommended Key West. I called some friends there. The plane tracked southbound.

Landing at 4 in the morning, we settled in at the Key Wester hotel. For a few hours, on Sept. 10, the boys relaxed. John swam in the pool with several members of the Exciters, an African American girl group. Photos of John in the pool with several black women enraged Southern reporters and became an overnight sensation.

A couple of years earlier, Paul and John had enraged the Liverpool establishment by inviting Joe Ankrah and the Chants - a magical, all-black group - to play at the Cavern, the favored venue of the young Beatles. And the Beatles were the backup band for the Chants that night, over Brian's initial objections. Joe's band was talented, but they had few opportunities to show it. In my book When They Were Boys, Joe remembered:

"It was bad enough that the modern moods [i.e., racism] never gave a black group a chance, but if not for Paul and his friends, we would have never stayed together. . . . In fact, I think that meeting with the Beatles changed the direction of my life." Joe, who remains to this day in Liverpool, is eternally grateful. When I told him the Gator Bowl story, he said, "After what they did for my group, that is no surprise."

Back in Key West, with the hours ticking down to the Gator Bowl, Brian told us the word had come in: The Gator Bowl, for the first time, would be fully integrated.

The actual concert was windy from the storm. It was not a sellout. But that didn't matter. As the plane flew north to Boston, the boys knew they had made more than music. They had made history.

Larry Kane is a veteran of 48 years as an anchor, author, and journalist in Philadelphia. He was the only American reporter to travel in the Beatles' traveling party to every stop on their 1964 and 1965 U.S. tours.

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