The Kennedy Center

Paul McCartney


(Songwriter and musician; born June 18, 1942, in Liverpool, England)

He was once part of the most famous foursome in rock and roll history and has evolved into one of the most influential and successful musicians of all time. 

"Is there anyone who grew up with The Beatles in the 1960s who can imagine life without them?" Frank Rich asked in The New York Times. The truth is that for generation after generation, through cultural revolutions and gentle transformations, four working class lads from Liverpool have marked our lives forever. On his own since those days, Paul McCartney continues to touch us all, continues to make music that dances to the beat of the human heart.

One of the most influential and doubtless the most successful composer of our time, Paul McCartney has left an indelible mark in the vast and varied landscape that is American music.  His song "Yesterday,'' composed for The Beatles in 1965, has been played more than six million times on American radio stations and is considered the greatest pop song in rock and roll history (Rolling Stone and MTV). With The Beatles, he changed the world of music.  In the ‘70s and ‘80s with Wings, and to this day as a solo artist, McCartney continues to be the embodiment of the living and ever changing process that is popular song. 

James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool on June 18, 1942, the son of Mary and James McCartney. His mother was a midwife.  His father, a volunteer fireman during World War II, was an accomplished jazz musician. Young Paul taught himself the trumpet and, soon later, the guitar.  "The minute he got the guitar,'' his brother recalled, "that was the end.  He was lost.  He didn't have time to eat or think about anything else.''

The legend began with friends making music together. McCartney met a fellow Liverpudlian named John Lennon at a church picnic in the summer of 1957.  Lennon asked McCartney to join his band, the Quarrymen, as lead guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter. Soon McCartney switched to bass guitar, his schoolmate George Harrison began playing lead as the Quarrymen evolved into The Beatles and in August, 1962, Ringo Starr completed the foursome as their drummer. Music would never be the same.  The Beatles signed with EMI in 1962 and became the world's most popular band by 1964. Legendary album followed legendary album, including Meet the Beatles, Please Please Me, Help!, the landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album and Let It Be.

McCartney met and fell in love with the American photographer Linda Eastman, and the pair were married in 1969.  Encouraged by his wife, McCartney followed his Beatles years with the solo albums McCartney and Ram, after which he made history once again by forming the band Wings.  The couple's 1973 Band on the Run, a worthy successor of McCartney's Beatles legacy, quickly rose to No. 1 and sold more than three million copies.  Increasingly, the McCartneys also became involved in the cause of animal rights and were prominent advocates of PETA as well as of Greenpeace and the Friends of the Earth. In 1997, McCartney was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Tragedy struck in 1998, when Linda McCartney lost her fight against breast cancer. Undefeated, McCartney soon released A Garland for Linda, a moving musical tribute to his beloved wife as well as an internationally successful fundraising project for cancer research.

The man who helped create the soundtrack of the '60s has expanded his horizons, much as George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein did in their day.  No less an authority on poetry than Allen Ginsberg told the ex-Beatle that "‘Eleanor Rigby' is one hell of a poem'' and urged him to pursue lyrics apart from music.  McCartney has done just that, and his poetry collection Blackbird Singing has surprised and delighted fans on both sides of the Atlantic.  McCartney also took up painting in 1982 at the age of 40, encouraged by his friend Willem de Kooning.  Recent exhibitions of his paintings, sculptures and photographs have paid tribute to this little-known side of McCartney's talent in his native Liverpool and throughout Europe.

While never abandoning his roots in rock and roll, McCartney's musical adventures have led him to new frontiers, from the lovely simplicity of his piano fantasy A Leaf to the monumental heights of his Liverpool Oratorio and in his retelling of the creation myth, Standing Stone.  This 1997 symphonic poem with chorus, which San Francisco Chronicle critic Octavio Roca singled out as further proof that "Sir Paul McCartney stands second to none among the 20th century's greatest songwriters,'' rose to No. 1 in both the American and the British classical charts.

Standing Stone is only one chapter in a long and generous career, but it is emblematic of the indomitable humanism at the heart of McCartney's work from "Yesterday,'' "Eleanor Rigby'' and "Hey Jude'' right through "Back in the Sunshine Again,'' McCartney's 2001 collaboration with his son James.  "High above this overcrowded place,'' the chorus sings near the end of Standing Stone, "A distant blackbird / Glides through space / And all he does is search for love. / Love is the oldest secret of the universe.''

Here, there and everywhere touched by his genius, Paul McCartney generously lets us in that oldest of secrets.
Sir Paul McCartney


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