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An American Love Affair Continued:
Ringo Starr’s Golden Snare Drum at The Met

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When The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, Ringo Starr performed on a drum set manufactured by the Ludwig Drum Company, delivered to Ed Sullivan Studios by Manny’s Music in New York City. The name “Ludwig” was clearly displayed across the face of the bass drum decaled directly above the band’s name, an unusual occurrence back in the early days of rock and roll. The day after the televised broadcast of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Ludwig Drum Company was flooded with orders for the drum kit Ringo had played on the show. The company went into overdrive, trying to keep up with orders for “the Ringo set.”

Later that year, to thank Ringo, Ludwig designed a one-of-a-kind, 14-karat gold-plated snare drum which the company (specifically, Ludwig’s then President William F. Ludwig, Jr.) presented to Ringo during The Beatles first visit to Chicago for a September 1964 concert appearance. Chicago is also home base for The Ludwig Drum Company.

The back story, according to Ludwig’s 100th Anniversary DVD, goes something like this: Ringo, Brian Epstein and “some of the boys” were walking down a street in London and came across the Ludwig brand for the very first time. Ringo recalls, “I saw this kit in the window—it was black [oyster] pearl. It looked great! The dealer went to take off the decal that said Ludwig and I said, ‘Leave it on.’ I just loved everything American!” With their February 9, 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles and Ludwig became household names.

The gold-plated presentation drum (meaning, according to Jayson Kerr Dobney, curator for the exhibit, “presented to” as opposed to “for presentation”) will remain on display in the Musical Instruments Galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the next six months in honor of Ringo Starr’s 70th Birthday celebration year (Ringo turned 70 on July 7, 2010). Earlier this year, Ringo taped a performance in The Metropolitan Museum of Art for PBS (Live from the Artist’s Den) which airs throughout the month of July (check your local listings). During a break from taping, Ringo took a tour of the Museum’s Musical Instruments Galleries where Jayson, also a drummer, brought up the idea of displaying Ringo’s iconic drum in celebration of Ringo’s milestone birthday. Ringo thought it was a great idea and agreed. “It’s a beautiful piece. More beautiful than I expected,” Jayson says. “This might be the world’s most famous drum.”

While it seems unusual for an iconic piece of pop culture to sit amidst ancient artifacts in one of the world’s most famous art museums, Jayson Kerr Dobney says the mission of the Department of Musical Instruments is to collect instruments from all times and all places, including a small but growing collection of 20th Century pieces. “This drum is the perfect example of a 20th Century piece. It’s from the greatest maker, their highest end product, for one of the greatest stars,” he says. “It was a perfect opportunity for our collection to show a piece of iconic 20th Century culture.”

The drum is displayed at a level which makes it easy for viewing and so the name plaque, bearing the engraving, “Ringo Starr, The Beatles,” is visible. “The story has always been about Ludwig making the drum,” Jayson says. “But a more important story is that he took the drum home and played it.”

Ringo was not an official endorser of Ludwig and before The Beatles, Ludwig did not sell drums with their name decaled on the front. “Because Ringo was such a huge fan of America, he really wanted to show the world he was playing an American drum set,” Jayson explains. “He made sure the drum had the Ludwig name pasted on it when he played The Ed Sullivan Show. He insisted on it.”

The drum is housed within the newly-renovated Musical Instruments Galleries in a collection that dates as far back as 300 BC and represents six continents and the Pacific Islands. The youngest piece in the collection is a set of steel drums from the 1980s. The Ludwig drum, which measures 14 inches in diameter and 5 1/2 inches high is on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art from Ringo Starr and will remain on view in a special display through December 2010.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street.
Museum Hours:
Monday: Closed (except holiday Mondays: Labor Day, Columbus Day and Monday during Christmas/New Year’s week)
Tuesday–Thursday: 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Sunday: 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
For more information, please visit www.metmuseum.org

Photo captions, from top:

Ringo’s Ludwig Drum at the Metropolitan Museum

Ringo Starr accepting the gold snare drum in 1964 from William F. Ludwig, Jr.,
President of Ludwig Drum Company (second from left), while his daughter Brooke,
Ludwig’s Director of Marketing R.L. Schory (far right) and the other Beatles (John
Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney) look on. Photo: Ludwig Industries.

The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, February 1964

Ringo at His Famous Drum Set

Ringo’s Ludwig Drum Head

Ringo’s Drum at the Met

The Beatles in America

Ringo Starr

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