Governor Pat Quinn has proclaimed Sept. 21 as "George Harrison Day" in Illinois to commemorate the late musical star's two-week stay in southern Illinois 50 years ago, when The Beatles were poised to conquer pop culture and music history. Governor Quinn also urged citizens to attend the Sept. 21 historical marker dedication in Benton that will unveil a permanent reminder of Harrison's southern Illinois activities as "The First Beatle in America." Today's announcement is part of Governor Quinn's commitment to promote heritage tourism in Illinois.
"Many icons through history have Illinois connections, and we are recognizing one more with this proclamation," Governor Quinn said. "George Harrison helped define a generation, and we encourage visitors to follow his footsteps throughout southern Illinois."
The historical marker dedication, hosted by the Franklin County Historic Preservation Society and the Illinois State Historical Society, will be held in Benton's Capitol Park on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 2 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. The marker will describe the regional exploits of a young British musician just months before he and his partners exploded into worldwide fame that is as strong today as it was in 1963.
In the late summer of 1963, four musicians from Liverpool, England -- John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr -- collectively known as The Beatles, had three hit singles in England and decided to take separate holidays before their anticipated American debut in early 1964. Lennon went to Paris, McCartney and Starr to Greece, and Harrison to America. Traveling with his older brother Peter, Harrison came to southern Illinois to visit their sister, Louise Harrison Caldwell.
For two weeks, Harrison stayed at his sister's home in Benton, jammed with several local musicians, performed with a group at the Eldorado VFW Hall, bought a guitar in Mount Vernon, sang "Happy Birthday" at a bocce ball club in Benton, and went camping in the Garden of the Gods and other Shawnee National Forest locations. Many of The Beatles' first recordings were played over a West Frankfort radio station and Harrison was interviewed by a local teenager, Marcia Schafer, the first interview by a Beatle in America.
Harrison returned to England and came back to America with the rest of The Beatles in Feb. 1964 after "I Want to Hold Your Hand" rose to number one on the U.S. charts. He was known for writing such classic songs as "Taxman," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Something." Harrison died in 2001.