Sheila Bromberg, Jewish harpist who was the first woman to play on a Beatles album, has died at 92


(JTA) – Sheila Bromberg was a much-requested harpist in London in the 1960s, but when she received a request to perform at EMI’s Abbey Road Studio from 9pm to midnight, she felt she couldn’t refuse: she was, after all, a single mother of two young children.

Yet it wasn’t until the Jewish harpist heard a man with a Liverpudlian accent behind her that she realized she was about to make history.

“Well, what have you got on the dots?” She remembered Paul McCartney asking her that night in early 1967. McCartney, who couldn’t read music, wanted to hear him play the sheet music he had dictated to Mike Leander, a musical arranger.

Bromberg, who died at age 92 on August 17 in a hospice in Aylesbury, England, was set to become the first woman to perform on a Beatles album. She performed the harp accompaniment on “She’s Leaving Home,” the heartbreaking snapshot of the void between parent and daughter, on The Beatles’ music-changing album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

In a 2011 profile on the BBC, Bromberg, who had a perfect ear for accents, imitated McCartney struggling to explain precisely what he wanted from her and the string orchestra.

“No, no, I want something, eh…” she said, quoting her words. “He couldn’t describe it, he couldn’t express it, and he was waiting for someone to get him out of the air.”

George Martin, the producer of The Beatles, was, unusually, on another gig; McCartney was missing the one man who could explain what he wanted.

Bromberg and the orchestra did three hours of takes. At midnight, Bromberg recalls, Erich Gruenberg, the German-born Jewish violinist who had trained in Mandate Palestine and was also in great demand as a studio musician, “put his violin under his arm and said: ‘Now it’s midnight, I have to go home because we are working this morning.’ “

“Well, I guess that’s it then,” replied McCartney, according to Bromberg.

When the album came out, she realized that McCartney was gone with her first take, but dubbed it to have a dub effect. “That’s what he was looking for,” she recalls, thinking. “Yes! Clever!”

The Beatles (left to right) George Harrison (1943 – 2001), Ringo Starr, John Lennon (1940 – 1980) and Paul McCartney hold the cover art of their new LP, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ‘, at the album’s press launch, held at Brian Epstein’s at 24 Chapel Street, London, May 19, 1967 (John Downing / Getty Images)

Her delicate arpeggios feature a young woman “silently closing her bedroom door, leaving the note she hoped to say more”.

Parents’ anguish – “Daddy, our baby is gone,” the mother cries – cut the bones of a generation as they watched their children walk away. “Something inside that has always been denied for so many years,” sings McCartney, as Bromberg’s gentle strokes reappear at the end of the track.

Bromberg was born in London. His paternal grandfather was a famous Jewish musician in Ukraine before fleeing because of the pogroms, and his father and son were also orchestral musicians.

Bromberg has recorded with other artists such as Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield and the Bee Gees. She appeared on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” playing the harp in a wheelbarrow and appeared on the soundtrack of two James Bond films.

She got nine pounds sterling for her Beatles concert – around $ 190 in today’s money. She seemed during an irritated period that the song was the apparent peak of her career. “I’m known for four bars of music,” she once said. “I found that a little weird.”

His registration on a music teacher‘s website ends, after listing his qualifications (“I studied harp with Gwendolin Mason for whom Ravel wrote the ‘Septet’”) ends with a disposable: “I have also worked with the ‘Beatles’.

But as she retired to Lane End, a village in Buckinghamshire in south-central England, she felt more comfortable with her role. “It was a really long time ago now, but it’s still a worthwhile project and I enjoyed playing with them,” she told her local newspaper in 2013 (the article noted that Bromberg, then 84, was still available to teach music, and added an email address). When she retired, she trained to use music to counsel mentally handicapped children.

On the BBC in 2011, she appeared live in the studio with Ringo Starr and surprised him with a harp rendering of “Yellow Submarine”, one of the few Beatles songs on which the drummer sang lead. .

“It feels a little bit good,” she told the BBC of her “Sgt. Pepper’s involvement.” Looking back on it now, I’m really, really proud to have been a part of it. “

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