Saturday, September 11, 2021

R.I.P.: Sheila Bromberg, Harpest for The Beatles

Shelia Bromberg

Sheila Bromberg was a busy harpist in British symphony orchestras when an agent called on March 17, 1967, to offer her a three-hour stint that night as a session musician at the EMI recording studio on Abbey Road in London, according to The Washington Post.

The pay was 9 pounds — about $17. With two young children to feed, she showed up at 8:30 p.m. to tune her harp and was handed a piece of sheet music. Only later did she learn that the notes she played were to be the intro on “She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles. The song was released months later on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which Rolling Stone magazine ranked in 2003 as No. 1 of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Bromberg’s harp intro and rhythm, backed by a full string section, set the poignant tone of the track before Paul McCartney (who recorded separately) began the lyric “Wednesday morning at 5 o’clock as the day begins.”

It “is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time,” Rolling Stone wrote of “Sgt. Pepper.” (“She’s Leaving Home” was one of only a few tracks in the Fab Four’s career on which they did not play any instruments but only sang.)

Bromberg, who became first female musician ever to record on a Beatles album, died Aug. 17 at a hospice center in Aylesbury, England. She was 92 and had a heart ailment, said her son, David Laurence, who spent years as an orchestral French horn player.

Although her three and a half minutes of playing on “She’s Leaving Home” brought her anonymously into millions of homes over the last five decades, Mrs. Bromberg was regarded by classical and session players as more than a one-hit wonder.

She played harp on two early James Bond films starring Sean Connery — “Dr. No” (1962) and “Goldfinger” (1964) — in the pulsing musical scores by John Barry. She also performed the solo intro to the 1976 hit disco single “Boogie Nights” by the band Heatwave. She recalled that the heat in the studio was so intense, she played with her feet in a bucket of icy water.

During the 1960s and ’70s, she was a member of the BBC’s Top of the Pops orchestra, backing some of the world’s biggest stars on the TV program of that name, Britain’s most popular music show of the time.

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