New relationships with members of the Beatles and their representatives has allowed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland to compile "the most comprehensive, artifact-driven Beatles exhibit in the world," according to Vice President of Exhibitions Jim Henke.
Henke tells Billboard.com that direct inroads into the George Harrison estate and Ringo Starr's camp made it easier for the Rock Hall to acquire items, rather than relying on third-party sources such as collectors.
"We've always had a Beatles exhibit here, but the only Beatle who really was cooperating with us was John Lennon's estate, Yoko [Ono]," Henke says. "She became a very good friend of ours, and we've always had a good representation of him in the museum."
Henke says that Harrison's widow Olivia contacted him in mid-2010 to discuss a possible tie-in to the DVD release of "The Concert For Bangladesh," which led to a small exhibit, while a subsequent call to Starr's representatives resulted in the loan of several of his personal items. "We suddenly had three of the Beatles cooperating with us, giving us stuff," Henke says. "So it turned out we were able to put a nice exhibit together."
The Rock Hall's expanded Beatles section, which is set up in the museum's main exhibit hall, now includes Harrison's striped suit from the group's 1966 tour, Starr's red military-style jacket from the "Strawberry Fields Forever" video, and a variety of instruments including Starr's logo drumhead from the February 1964 Ed Sullivan performance and a guitar played by Harrison and Lennon. The exhibit also includes Paul McCartney's jacket from the "Help!" film and his handwritten arrangement for "Birthday," as well as sketches made by former bassist Stuart Sutcliffe.
Henke says that McCartney remains "the only one in the band who has so far not directly cooperated," with his artifacts coming from outside sources. "I think Paul's not that interested in being in a museum," Henke notes. "He feels his career is current and ongoing, and if he's in a museum it would mean his career is over."
The Beatles exhibit is part of a major redesign and reorganization the Rock Hall unveiled this spring, including updated technology and exhibit spaces. The shrine is planning more improvements, including a new video wall and an expanded Legends of Rock display. The additions should be ready for the 2012 Rock Hall induction ceremonies, which will take place for a third time in Cleveland.
"We wanted to upgrade all the audio and video and interactive elements," Henke says. "We always had pretty much the entire story of rock 'n' roll, roots up to the present, but never in any particular order. Now we're telling the story a little more chronologically, which I think people appreciate."