"I was obsessed": Jamie Bernstein on sharing Beatlemania with dad Leonard Bernstein

On "Everything Fab Four," the author discusses being John and Yoko's neighbor and learning Beatles music theory

Published June 13, 2024 4:55PM (EDT)

Jamie Bernstein (Steve J. Sherman)
Jamie Bernstein (Steve J. Sherman)

Author, filmmaker and narrator Jamie Bernstein – daughter of legendary composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein – joined host Kenneth Womack to talk about meeting the Beatles, becoming neighbors with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, “Maestro” (which was based on her memoir, “Famous Father Girl”) and much more on “Everything Fab Four.” The podcast is co-produced by me and Womack, a music scholar who also writes about pop music for Salon, and distributed by Salon.

Bernstein, who says growing up with a “larger than life” father certainly “wasn’t boring,” told Womack that her Beatles fandom began at age 11 – and that she and her dad shared an interest in their music. “They were already on my radar, so by the time February 1964 hit [when the band played “The Ed Sullivan Show”] I was obsessed. I was dreaming about them. I was a capital B ‘Beatlemaniac’ and was the exact right age to witness their parade of albums in real time.” 

As for Leonard, who was hosting his “Young People’s Concerts” TV show at the time, Jamie said, “My dad quickly figured out that by including pop music examples on those concerts was a really great way to retain the interest and focus of kids . . . He’d play ‘And I Love Her’ as an example of A-B-A form and all the kids in the audience would go nuts. He put [the Beatles] in the same category with American songbook composers and Schubert for their inventiveness and melodic quality. I learned so much by sharing Beatles music with my dad.” 

She also explained that as the Beatles evolved throughout the ‘60s and became more inventive with their music, “My father was almost as obsessed with ‘Sgt. Pepper’ as I was,” and soon they were poring over every song together, with Leonard even having dinner guests at their home sit down and listen to the albums.

Their joint ties to the Beatles ran deep both before and after “Pepper,” though, with Leonard having toyed with the idea of recording songs based on some of John Lennon’s “In His Own Write” poems, and with his eventual move to the Dakota building in NYC where Lennon lived with his wife, Yoko Ono. It was also where Lennon’s life was violently taken in December 1980. “I was there that night,” Jamie told Womack. “I can't even describe the horror and despair. My dad and I sat together in his studio crying and drinking for hours.” But she also has lighter memories of that time, describing a courtyard potluck at the building where she and her friends had a brief, comical brush with Lennon.


Now, with the Academy Award-nominated “Maestro” bringing Leonard Bernstein back into the current conversation, Jamie credits writer-director Bradley Cooper (who also played her father in the film; she was portrayed by Maya Hawke) with “really involving” her and her siblings in the creative process to bring a “very intimate and personal story of our family” to life. It also showed “how enormous [Leonard’s] musical imagination was.” Said Jamie, “He wrote everything from operas to rap songs. It’s one of the reasons my dad loved and respected the Beatles so much. They were doing something different on every single recording, and you never knew what they were going to come up with next.”

Leonard Bernstein; Jamie BernsteinAn impudent smile on little Jamie's (Bernstein) face as she sits at her father's (Leonard Bernstein, 1918-1990) side when he works at the piano shows she has no awe of the Bernstein genius. (Getty Images/Bettmann)Listen to the entire conversation with Jamie Bernstein on “Everything Fab Four” and subscribe via Spotify, Apple, Google or wherever you’re listening. “Everything Fab Four” is distributed by Salon.

Host Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography on Beatles producer George Martin and the bestselling books "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles” and “John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life.” His latest book is the authorized biography of Beatles road manager Mal Evans, “Living the Beatles Legend,” out now.

By Nicole Michael

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