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Rubenstein Center Scholarship

An Ex-Beatle at the White House

On November 16, 1974, President Gerald Ford’s son Jack, a fan of rock n’ roll, met former Beatle George Harrison backstage after a concert in Salt Lake City. Jack, who was studying forestry at Utah State University, befriended Harrison and invited him and several other guests to visit the White House. On December 13, 1974, keyboardist Billy Preston, sitarist Ravi Shankar, saxophonist Tommy Scott, manager Denis O’ Brien, publicity agent Michael Sterling, and George Harrison’s father, Harry, all accompanied the former Beatle to the Ford White House. Harrison and company were in the midst of their 1974 North American tour and were performing in nearby Landover, Maryland, on December 13.

Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, President Gerald Ford, and Jack Ford in the Oval Office on December 13, 1974.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum/ NARA

The group first dined with Jack in the Third Floor Solarium. As they enjoyed beef, ham, and vegetable plates, the group conversed while listening to Harrison’s newest album “Dark Horse.” Jack and his sister Susan acted as tour guides as the entourage viewed the White House rooms. In the East Room, Harrison and Preston sampled a few bars on the 1938 Steinway piano situated in the historic room. President Ford met briefly with them for about 15 minutes in the Oval Office.1 Politics was apparently avoided that day. After the meeting, Harrison stated, “I didn’t ask him [Ford] about Bangladesh or anything else political . . . I didn’t want to bug him.”2 Three years earlier in 1971, Harrison had organized The Concert for Bangladesh benefit event in New York, a charity concert that set the precedent for later large-scale philanthropic efforts organized by the musical community.

As Harrison’s entourage was leaving the office, Jack told his father, “I promised George a WIN (Whip Inflation Now) button.” When one could not be immediately found, the president sent appointments secretary Terry O’ Donnell to find one. In return for the WIN button, Harrison gave the president an “Om” mantra pin representative of Harrison’s interest in Eastern spirituality.3

President Gerald R. Ford with Billy Preston, Harrison, and Ravi Shankar in the Oval Office.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum/ NARA

Harrison would remember Ford as quite amiable both in the immediate aftermath of the visit as well as in his 1980 autobiographical work, I, Me, Mine.4 Harrison confessed that he felt “good vibes about the White House.” Having been in the eye of the Beatlemania hurricane in the mid-1960s, Harrison understood the demands placed on the first family, commenting that “being the President’s son means being constantly under the public eye. Everyone watches what you do. His main thing is to learn how to be able to keep an even balance.”5 On whether the president was a follower of Harrison’s musical output, Harrison admitted shortly after the meeting, “I don’t think he’s too familiar with my music.”6 Later that evening at the Capital Centre, Harrison was seen onstage wearing the pin given to him by President Ford.7

George was the first, but not the last ex-Beatle to visit the White House. On June 2, 2010, Paul McCartney performed in the East Room of the White House when he was awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.8

President Gerald R. Ford and his son, Jack Ford, meet with George Harrison, Harry Harrison, Billy Preston, Tommy Scott, and Ravi Shankar in the Oval Office.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum/ NARA