Everyone knows that the Beatles made history with their American debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. But did you know that the Fab Four spent nearly two weeks of that legendary American tour in Florida?
Beatles fans will delight in veteran rockumentarian Bob Kealing’s new book, Good Day Sunshine State: How the Beatles Rocked Florida (University Press of Florida, 2023). Kealing’s 244 pages are packed with anecdotes and quippy quotes. He also profiles of a broad range of Floridians whose lives were forever changed by the Beatles’ visits to Miami, Jacksonville, and the Keys in 1964.
Kealing’s account contains plenty of delightful Beatles trivia. Did you know, for instance, that frenzied teens would hurl jelly beans at the boys during concerts? This was due to a rumor that the (much softer) British equivalent – jelly babies – were their favorite snack.
But the book also delves into the weightier side of the American tour, including the band’s firm anti-segregation stance. By contract, they played only fully integrated venues. Landing right in the midst of the United States’ Civil Rights movement, the tour provides a fascinating glimpse into how these mop-topped pranksters helped to catalyze social change.
I’ve Just Seen a Face
A real strength of the book is Kealing’s remarkable ability to sketch lively characters out of archival materials. John, Paul, George, and Ringo appear in all their boyish splendor. But there are fascinating intimations – a quote here, an incident there – of the more complicated superstars they would become by the end of the decade. Just as engaging are Kealing’s portraits of everyday Americans. There’s Kitty Oliver, a young Black teenager attending a concert for the first time in a heretofore all-white venue. Or Sergeant Buddy Dresner of the Miami Beach Police, who had the delicate task of shepherding the band through their South Florida stay – while fending off countless devious teen fans.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a real Florida adventure without a hurricane! Notorious Hurricane Dora makes a dramatic appearance in the final chapters of the book, very nearly quashing the band’s climactic show in Jacksonville.
The Long and Winding Road
As with any lovingly researched, richly detailed history, some readers may find the texture of Good Day Sunshine State a bit dense at times. If the book were a Beatles song, it would have the deliberate stride and lyrical density of “Come Together” rather than a light poignancy of “Yesterday” or the racing drive of “She Loves You.” But whatever your taste or tempo, sticking with this book is worth it for the rich sense of this remarkable historical moment it evokes.