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  • Tara Crutchfield

Author Bob Kealing’s “Good Day Sunshine State”

Join Edward R. Murrow and four-time Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist and author Bob Kealing at the Winter Haven Public Library exactly sixty years to the afternoon when The Beatles arrived in Florida. Part of the library’s “Music Near & Far” 2024 lecture series, Kealing will discuss his most recent book, “Good Day Sunshine State: How The Beatles Rocked Florida,” on Tuesday, February 13 at 5:30pm.


During his years as a deadline reporter, Kealing became interested in stories one could hang onto. His interest was particularly piqued by Central Florida’s pre-Disney history.


In the mid-nineties, working as a freelance writer and reporter with the Orlando NBC television affiliate, Kealing began investigating novelist and poet Jack Kerouac. He learned about a then-dilapidated Orlando cottage Kerouac shared with his mother in 1957 and 1958. In 1997, Kealing penned a four-thousand-word article about the cottage for The Orlando Sentinel, sparking what would become the Kerouac Project. An all-but-forgotten abode twenty-something years ago, the Kerouac house is now a fully restored home on the National Register of Historic Places. An ongoing writers-in-residence program is hosted there. In 2004, Kealing published the book, “Kerouac in Florida: Where the Road Ends.”


Kealing went on to write about the early life of the father of Cosmic American Music, Gram Parsons, in “Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock” (2015), followed by “Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire” (2016) and finally, “Elvis Ignited: The Rise of an Icon in Florida” (2017).


Early last year, Kealing released “Good Day Sunshine State: How The Beatles Rocked Florida.” In addition to abundant transcripts, letters, and primary-source interviews, the book delves into the band’s residency at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, where they performed to a live television audience of 70 million and wrote songs for their A Hard Day’s Night  album. “I would argue it’s one of the top two or three Beatles landmarks in the United States,” said the author.


Kealing was the youngest of six and would listen to his sister’s Beatles vinyl album. “Growing up in the 70s, as other kids were listening to the band of the day, I’m listening to Revolver and watching A Hard Day’s Night. So, I got a true indoctrination into Beatles music not long after they broke up and I’ve loved them ever since,” he said.


The Beatles’ time in Florida is significant for many reasons. They spent more time here than anywhere else in North America during the watershed year of 1964. Kealing’s book examines three aspects of The Beatles’ Sunshine State sojourn –  influence, activism, and innocence.


“Their influence on really important Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who grew up in Florida is also a big part of the story,” noted Kealing. The Beatles inspired artists from Tom Petty and The Allman Brothers Band to Winter Haven’s own Gram Parsons. An interview the author will never forget was with Tom Petty’s best friend and Mudcrutch bandmate Tom Leadon. “That was so important to listen to the seismic effect of [Petty] seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show,” he said.


The band’s first bout of activism in the United States took place at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, where they took the firm stance that if their concert was segregated, they wouldn’t play. “That was a risky stand to take, but they did,” said Kealing. Because of a series of legal precedents set by a heroic Jacksonville judge, which Kealing outlines in significant detail in the book, a segregated concert wasn’t an issue for The Beatles. “By the time The Beatles concert came around, segregation was outlawed, and integration was the law of the land.”


Kealing’s book features dozens of primary source interviews. He spoke with the entire Life Magazine team, who took the iconic photograph of The Beatles in the swimming pool, which went on to be a cover shot. “I talked to John Loengard, the photographer who took that picture, and got his story where he thought it was a lousy photo at first. And now, it is one of the iconic pictures of The Beatles,” said Kealing.

He interviewed Lillian Walker-Moss with The Exciters of “Tell Him” fame about her experiences as an African American in the South while The Beatles were touring. Legendary guitarist Reggie Young shares stories about opening for the band, and Lofton “Coffee” Butler talks about jamming with them in Key West.


Kealing’s talk will be the third event in the library’s lecture series. He will give a lecture and a PowerPoint presentation. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Doors open approximately 30 minutes prior to the event. Printed tickets are not required to attend, however registration is required.


“I’m so excited to see all the street improvements and the new hotel there. That makes it even more of a fun and interesting backdrop,” said Kealing. “The fact that it will be exactly sixty years to the day that The Beatles came to Florida is really meaningful.”

 

 Photography Provided


EVENT DETAILS

Where: Winter Haven Public Library Multi-Purpose Room

When: Tuesday, February 13, 2024 at 5:30pm

Register at mywinterhaven.com


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