In 1957, Julia Lennon bought her 17 year old son, John, his first guitar, a Gallotone Champion acoustic “guaranteed not to split.” The first song he learned to play was Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame.” At age 15, Lennon formed the skiffle group, the Quarrymen–named after Quarry Bank High School. Lennon first met Paul McCartney at the Quarrymen’s second performance, held in Woolton, England, at the St. Peter’s Church garden fête, after which he asked McCartney to join the band. The pair quickly bonded, and began rehearsing and writing songs together at McCartney’s home.
Lennon’s first completed song was “Hello Little Girl, which would later be a hit by the fabulous foursome. McCartney also introduced Lennon to George Harrison and convinced him to let the young guitarist join the group. Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon’s friend from art school, later joined as bassist. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Sutcliffe became “The Beatles” in early 1960 after a series of other names were rejected. McCartney took over on bass after Sutcliffe decided to stay inHamburg,Germany, and drummer Ringo Starr took his spot in the band permanently. The foursome was complete.
The band’s first single, “Love Me Do,” was released in October 1962 and reached No. 17 on the British charts. They recorded their debut album, Please Please Me, in under 10 hours on February 11, 1963. After a year of Beatlemania in the UK, the group’s historic February 1964 US debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show marked their breakthrough to international stardom. A two-year period of constant touring, moviemaking, and songwriting followed, during which Lennon wrote two books, In His Own Write in 1964 and A Spaniard in the Works the following year. Lennon married his college sweetheart, Cynthia Powell and had a son, Julian.
On November 7, 1966 he met Japanese artist Yoko Ono at the Indica gallery in London, where she was preparing a conceptual art show. They began a relationship in May 1968, and Cynthia filed for divorce on the grounds of infidelity later that year.
“As usual, there is a great woman behind every idiot.” – John Lennon
Yoko Ono was born in Tokyo on February 18, 1933. Her father Eisuke worked for the Yokohama Specie Bank, and her mother Isoko was from the wealthy Yasuda banking family. Shortly after World War II ended, the Ono family moved to Scarsdale,New York, and Yoko enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College. There she embraced the bohemian lifestyles of her fellow students, and was encouraged to develop her artistic aspirations. Ono was a member of Fluxus, an avant-garde art group inspired by Dada. However, she preferred to develop her own career as she explored conceptual and performance art forms.
Yoko Ono married composer Toshi Ichiyanagi in 1956, but the couple divorced in 1962 after living apart for several years. On November 28, 1962 she married Anthony Cox, an American film producer, jazz musician and art promoter, although the union was annulled on March 1, 1963 as Ono failed to finalize her divorce from Ichiyanagi.
Cox and Ono married properly months later and their daughter Kyoko Chan Cox was born shortly after. The marriage was short-lived, with frequent conflicts between the pair, although they stayed together for the sake of their careers.
Yoko met John as he was visiting a preview of an exhibition by her at the Indica Gallery,London. She handed him a card which simply said the word “Breathe.”
Lennon was impressed by a piece at the exhibition which he had to view by climbing a stepladder to look through a magnifying glass.
“Yoko was having an art show in London at Indica Gallery. In those days most art put everybody down, got people upset. I walked up the stepladder and picked up the spyglass. In teeny little writing it just said ‘Yes.’ And I made my decision to go see the rest of the show.”— John Lennon
Their affair began in May 1968. While Lennon’s wife Cynthia was inGreece, he and Ono recorded an album of experimental sounds at Lennon’s Weybridge home. After its completion they made love for the first time. When Cynthia returned to England it was clear that her marriage was over.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono quickly became inseparable, and he referred to her in many of his songs – “Don’t Let Me Down” was about her, and the 1969 single “The Ballad Of John and Yoko” documented their wedding and honeymoon.
Their son Sean was born on Lennon’s 35th birthday. After Sean’s birth, the couple lived largely in seclusion, with Lennon becoming a house-husband until he returned to music recording in 1980 and released the album Double Fantasy with Ono.
On December 8, 1980 Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota building by Mark David Chapman. Earlier that day Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for the gunman. The following day Yoko Ono issued a statement, which read:
There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean.
Ono scattered his ashes in New York’s Central Park, where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later created. In 2010, on what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday, the John Lennon Peace Monument was unveiled in Chavasse Park, Liverpool, by Cynthia and Julian Lennon. The sculpture entitled ‘Peace & Harmony’ exhibits peace symbols and carries the inscription “Peace on Earth for the Conservation of Life · In Honor of John Lennon 1940–1980.”