Sixty years ago, a little British band called The Beatles were unknown in America.

From Illinois, George Harrison’s older sister Louise helped change that, and afterward, their lives and music history would never be the same. Louise — the spunky, supportive Liverpool native who spent most of her life in the American Midwest — died Jan. 30, 2023 in Florida at age 91.

Two Quad Cities residents with key connections to her (Tom Vaccaro of Davenport and Julie Kirkpatrick of Bettendorf), are among the legions mourning her passing, more than 20 years after the legendary Beatle George died of lung cancer in November 2001 at age 58. He would have turned 80 on Feb. 25, 2023.

Louise Harrison and Tom Vaccaro, where she’s wearing a shirt with Vaccaro’s portrait of George Harrison (submitted photo).

Tom Vaccaro — a Beatles superfan, artist and musician — helped Louise coordinate appearances of the Fab Four tribute band Liverpool Legends in the Quad Cities, from 2011 to 2013. Their concerts helped raise money for music programs at area high schools, including Moline, Davenport North and Bettendorf High. And Vaccaro and Harrison got together many times after that.

He accompanied Louise in Chicago when she was there for a Liverpool Legends show at Navy Pier or one of her many appearances at Beatlefest. On one occasion, they were on their way to Navy Pier and happened to pass by Trump Tower. THE “T” in “Trump” had burned out so the sign read “Rump Tower.” “She loved that and laughed for quite some time,” Vaccaro recalled Tuesday.

He was invited to her 80th birthday party in Branson, Mo., where she and the Liverpool Legends were based. Vaccaro and Harrison created a foundation to benefit high school music programs.

“Lou chose this direction because George had started a foundation of his own to provide musical instruments to schools who could not afford them,” he recalled. “I was returning from visiting a friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma and was going to pass near Branson on my way home. I called Lou and we met at a Bob Evans restaurant in Branson where I laid out my idea for a foundation.”

The first title was “Come Together for Music Education,” which was soon changed because she didn’t like that song by John Lennon (on “Abbey Road”), Vaccaro said.

Their first test of the concept was at Moline High, and students played specially created arrangements with the Beatles tribute band, with brass, strings and choir.

“Lou was so thrilled with the result that we sat up until 4 a.m. talking about it and a thousand other things because she was too excited to sleep,” Vaccaro said. “She kept saying to me, ‘This is all I want to do now.’ She didn’t care about profit or recognition. Especially exciting to her was the number of kids, probably born long after Lennon’s death, that wanted a ‘Harrison Hug.’

“On his death bed, George hugged Lou and told her to pass it on,” he said. “Lou was so happy that a whole new generation had discovered and appreciated the Beatles, We sold out the 1,000-seat theatre at Moline High School that evening and raised approximately $4,000 for their music program.”

Members of the Liverpool Legends were hand-picked by Louise.

Another fond memory Vaccaro recalled was walking through a wooded area of DeWitt, searching for mushrooms which grow wild and are edible. “My phone rang and it was Lou, just wanting to chat. The friend who was with me was amazed that LOUISE HARRISON would call me in the middle of the day to talk,” he said.

From England to Illinois

According to Harrison’s 2014 autobiography “My Kid Brother’s Band … a.k.a. The Beatles,” she moved to the U.S. in the late 1950s. Her first husband was an engineer who found work with a string of coal companies. That eventually landed them in Benton, Ill. (90 minutes southeast of St. Louis), where Louise worked tirelessly to promote The Beatles to clueless American radio DJs.

In 1963, The Beatles first released “From Me to You” in the U.S. Unfortunately, it barely made even a dent in the charts, the Liverpool Legends posted recently on Facebook. Instead, a cover version of the song, released a month later by Del Shannon, became a minor hit, peaking at #77 on the U.S. charts.

Beatles guitarist George Harrison posing with some of the gifts that fans sent him to celebrate his 21st birthday, Feb. 25, 1964. He received 52 sacks of gifts and cards. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Louise Harrison was tirelessly promoting the record and taking it around to radio stations and saying, “Hey, my kid brother and his band wrote this song and you should be playing their version instead of Del Shannon’s”.

“As a mother and a housewife in the 1960s, Louise Harrison was way ahead of her time,” the tribute band wrote. “Her efforts promoting the group in the early days should be acknowledged and a part of Beatles history.”

A local radio station, WFRX-AM in nearby West Frankfort played a copy of “From Me to You,” that Louise gave them, which some believe was the first time the record was played in the U.S.

A group shot of the Beatles, Ringo Starr (in the background), George Harrison (1943 – 2001), Paul McCartney and John Lennon (1940 – 1980), pictured during a performance on Granada TV’s Late Scene Extra television show filmed in Manchester, England on Nov. 25, 1963. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Soon after her death, the Liverpool Legends (members of which were hand-picked by Louise) posted:

“Throughout her life, Louise Harrison was often misunderstood. In fact, her story and the impact she had on The Beatles rarely shows up in any Beatles history books. Her story and legacy deserve to be told.

From southern Illinois, Louise and The Beatles manager Brian Epstein communicated frequently, and he was literally asking for her help breaking The Beatles in America, the band wrote.

“Louise, a housewife and mother, took their records around to Midwest radio stations and tried to get them played. She was tenacious and determined to help her kid brothers band any way she could. She was successful at some stations and rejected by others.”

George died at 58 of lung cancer Nov. 29, 2001 and his older sister Louise died at 91 on Jan. 30, 2023.

“For a woman in the 1960s, this was a huge feat. Louise was so determined and willing to do what it takes to make things happen,” the Liverpool Legends page says.

Louise eventually moved away from Benton. She had struggles in her personal life, enduring divorce and bouncing between Illinois, Missouri, and other spots across the country before eventually landing in Florida.

A special summer in Galesburg

Julie Kirkpatrick of Bettendorf, a retired radio and TV veteran, got to meet Louise when they both worked for radio station WGIL in Galesburg, Ill., in the summer of 1968, when “Hey Jude” hit the charts. Kirkpatrick, who was from Galesburg, was going to the University of Illinois the following fall.

Julie Kirkpatrick knew Louise Harrison when they both worked for a Galesburg radio station.

“And I knew that we lived next door to the owner and general manager of the radio station,” she said Tuesday, “I was just looking for a way to make a little money to take away to college.”

Julie worked nights as a cleaning person, and Louise worked days at the station, for a few months.

Harrison worked as a copy writer, read commercials and was an occasional on-air personality at WGIL Radio when it was across from the Orpheum Theatre at 60 S. Kellogg St.

“Nobody knew I was related to George Harrison,” Harrison said on a return trip to Galesburg in 2007 for a Beatles tribute called “A Hard Day’s Night in Galesburg.”

Louise Harrison, sister of George Harrison, signs an autograph for Seth Andes of Benton, Pennsylvaina at the Abbey Road “On the River” Beatlemania Festival on Aug. 9, 2003 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Like most teen girls at the time, Kirkpatrick was a huge Beatles fan, and got to see them in concert in 1965 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

“I don’t remember really hearing a single note of music,” she recalled Tuesday, noting the crowd screams were so loud. “I was along the third base side, way up high, and I have one picture from that time and they’re just little dots down there on the infield.”

In 1968, Louise’s married name was Caldwell, and cleaning her office, Kirkpatrick found her return address labels, with her home address. She said she “actually took about five or six of those and I still have them to this day.”

Kirkpatrick found her house and visited her one day that summer. Mrs. Louise Caldwell, a copy writer at WGIL, lived at 1211 Parkview Road in Galesburg. Her husband at the time was Scottish mining engineer, Gordon Caldwell.

In 2011, Harrison made an appearance at (then) River Music Experience, Davenport, and Kirkpatrick confessed to that petty theft. “I happened to mention to her, when she was here that I worked at WGIL and her eyes kind of lit up.”

“She wasn’t there very long and I didn’t know her personally very well,” she said of Galesburg in ’68. “I was introduced to her; I knew who she was but I was coming in weekends and nights, so we didn’t hang out together. I didn’t really get to know her.”

Louise Harrison (lower right) watches the Liverpool Legends perform at an arena in Mexico City (courtesy of Liverpool Legends).

Kirkpatrick went on to become news director at WGIL after college, and worked many years for WQAD in Moline.

The Liverpool Legends recreated the Beatles historic 1964 Carnegie Hall concert at the famed New York venue in Mach 2016. For more information on Liverpool Legends (which tours around the world), visit their website HERE.