America changed after Ed Sullivan presented the Beatles on his TV variety show. The Sullivan broadcast on February 9, 1964, represented a cultural change. Politics changed as some elected officials paid more attention to the views of younger voters. Old customs, like racial segregation, were being successfully challenged by civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As the Vietnam War raged from the 1960s to the 1970s, the Beatles began to go their separate ways. In 1970, Paul McCartney said he was no longer working with the band. In 1971, John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono moved to New York City. Lennon’s “Imagine” was released in September 1971. He imagined a world at peace. While Lennon was a genius musician, he might not have imagined what Washington politicians had in store for him.
In early 1972, Lennon and Ono guest-hosted the syndicated daytime TV show “The Mike Douglas Show.” Middle-age, clean-cut and wholesome Mike Douglas allowed Lennon and Ono to invite guests for five consecutive days.
Guests included political activist Ralph Nader, Black Panther Party member Bobby Seale, comedian George Carlin, and musical guest Chuck Berry, among others. In 2023, the documentary “Daytime Revolution” explained the significance of counterculture heroes on the wholesome “Mike Douglas Show.”
Sen. Strom Thurmond, a Republican from South Carolina, took notice of Lennon’s popularity among younger voters.
Thurmond, a native of Edgefield, South Carolina, was elected to the Senate in 1954. In 1964, he switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. He served in the Senate until his death, at age 100, in 2003. According to press reports, his musical preferences were classical and country. For most of his life, Thurmond supported racial segregation. After his death, it was revealed that he fathered a biracial daughter.
Thurmond did not like Lennon’s criticism of the U.S. war in Vietnam. He also felt that Lennon supported political efforts to undermine President Richard Nixon’s chances of being the GOP presidential nominee in 1972.
In a Feb. 4, 1972, letter to Attorney General John Mitchell, Thurmond wanted Lennon deported. If Lennon’s visa were revoked, Thurmond suggested, the government could deport the singer. The Thurmond letter was released to the public in 1984.
One month after Thurmond’s letter to Mitchell, the Immigration and Naturalization Service revoked Lennon’s visa and began deportation proceedings. The INS’s basis for deporting Lennon was the singer’s 1969 marijuana conviction in the United Kingdom.
Lennon’s deportation was reversed in 1974. Also, in 1974, the Beatles formally disbanded. They continued to perform and record as solo artists.
In August 1974, Nixon resigned because of his role in the Watergate scandal. The following month, President Gerald R. Ford pardoned Nixon. In December 1974, Ford welcomed former Beatle George Harrison to the White House.
Mitchell, the former attorney general, served 19 months in federal prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. Other Nixon administration figures convicted of crimes included John Dean, H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman.
Lennon was granted permanent residency in the United States in 1976. In December 1980, crazed fan Mark David Chapman murdered Lennon outside the singer’s residence in New York City. Howard Cosell broke the news during ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”
Several previously unreleased songs recorded by Lennon became available after his death. In 2023, the last Beatles song, “Now and Then,” was released with the help of surviving bandmates Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Ringo Starr and technology.
Since the Beatles, many bands have been involved in political campaigns. Former pop singer Sonny Bono, of Sonny and Cher, was elected to Congress. Politicians use their favorite songs at their campaign events. Donald Trump likes “YMCA” by The Village People.
Today, rock and roll bands routinely engage in politics. For this, we can thank the Beatles and Strom Thurmond.