By Diane Y. Welch
On Thursday, Sept. 25, Katie Michel wore her Beatles shirt to school. When she arrived home later — at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe — she saw notice of a talk that night at The Bridges by Louise Harrison. As she rushed to attend the presentation, she realized the irony of her attire that day.
Louise Harrison is the older sister of the late George Harrison, the former Beatles’ lead guitarist and acclaimed singer-songwriter and philanthropist. He was also a compassionate advocate for music in schools.
Harrison’s talk echoed her brother’s concern about keeping music in education.
“The whole time I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I am in the presence of one of my favorite Beatles’ own flesh and blood,’” said Katie, 17, an ardent George Harrison fan.
Accompanying Harrison was Marty Scott, a member of the Beatles tribute band Liverpool Legends, with whom Harrison partners. Scott plays George and Harrison refers to him as her “new kid brother.” They met just six weeks after George’s death in November 2001. Since then, the tribute band was created and performs in Branson, Mo., where Harrison resides.
“We’ve done an excellent job there in providing Beatle music to the public,” Harrison said in a later exclusive interview with this newspaper. “The band is very authentic.”
Most notably, Liverpool Legends plays in schools. Coordinating with music directors, students learn the line-up of songs ahead of time, then perform alongside the band. At some venues there were more than 250 students on stage, she said.
“The Beatles’ music initially was fairly simple, but later it got into orchestration and became more complex,” said Harrison.
With this connection to education, Harrison witnessed how cuts have targeted music programs and wondered how to help get music back into schools.
A plan is emerging to do a statewide tour with proceeds benefiting music in education. Money raised could provide instruments or fund instruction. More affluent schools could raise funds for lower-income schools, and in that regard, “It would give the students an opportunity to feel good about what they are doing,” said Harrison.
This altruism is rooted in Harrison family values. Parents Harold and Louise selflessly helped others. If a runaway Beatle fan landed at their door, they offered food and shelter. For years, they answered thousands of George’s fan letters and considered John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr as family.
Harrison writes about these early years in a memoir, “My Kid Brother’s Band a.k.a. The Beatles!”, released by Acclaim Press.
It includes stories of Harrison’s behind-the-scenes work as an American resident who played a vital role in spreading Beatlemania from Britain to the U.S. She describes her efforts to establish nationwide contacts and help Beatles manager Brian Epstein secure distribution agreements with Capitol Records, and assisting him in a meeting with Ed Sullivan.
As 73 million viewers watched the Beatles’ historic debut 50 years ago on Sullivan’s variety show, Harrison worried about whether George could perform at all. He had a raging fever caused by strep throat, and she secretly served as his nurse. In the aftermath, George wrongly became known as the “quiet Beatle” because of this illness.
When asked why she has written the book now, Harrison said, “For years fans have requested that I retell what really happened, as many of the books on the Beatles are not factual. I read all kinds of wild stories that stun me because they are so out of character.”
Harrison’s character made a lasting impression on Katie: “I thought that Louise was a very wise person ... knowing what is important in life. She is very kind for sharing all that she has experienced.”
It is this willingness to share that keeps the energetic 82-year-old devoted to touring and talking about “her kid brother’s band.”
The evening after her Bridges presentation, Harrison spoke to an audience of 150 at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad. Her talk was video-recorded and will be added to the museum’s permanent collection. There are plans to curate an exhibition using Harrison’s personal archive of letters between herself and Epstein, family photographs and other Beatle-related ephemera.
For someone whose schoolgirl report card read, “Louise is a handful,” and whose mother said jokingly, “If I’d had another girl, I would have sent her back,” Harrison has created a bold endeavor that continues the Harrison legacy of compassion and giving.
George Harrison was 58 when he passed away from complications of cancer, and several of Harrison’s relatives have died in their 50s. With her signature dry humor, Harrison quipped, “They’ve all been let off for good behavior and obviously I’m still here, so I better start having some good behavior before I can get out of this.”
For information on Harrison’s book, “My Kid Brother’s Band a.k.a. The Beatles!”, visit www.acclaimpress.com. Harrison’s book is also available online at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.