Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
Back in the ’60s, George Martin probably felt unappreciated by his bosses. He was stuck on a meager salary throughout The Beatles’ and Parlophone’s commercial heyday, forcing him to go independent in 1965. Even The Beatles seemed to take his talents for granted at the end and didn’t even credit his preliminary work on Let it Be.
But he’d have the last laugh. On this very day in 1996, George Martin, producer extraordinaire, was honored for all his contributions to British music with a Knighthood from the Queen of England. He was the fist of the Beatles camp to be honored so highly. Paul McCartney would have to wait another year for his.
And nobody could say that Martin’s honor wasn’t deserved. Producing music that is both artistic and commercial is nigh on impossible, but Martin managed it with apparent ease.
Of course, working with The Beatles helped him amass his 30 #1 U.K. singles and 16 #1 albums and 22 #1 singles and 19 #1 albums in North America. But at Parlophone in the early ’60s, he also produced worldwide hits for Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, The Fourmost and Cilla Black. In fact, in 1963, Sir George Martin produced the #1 song on the U.K. singles charts for 37 weeks of the year.
And after his work with John, Paul, George and Ringo was done, Martin continued to be one of the world’s most in-demand producers, working with a diverse group of artists from Jeff Beck and America, to Kenny Rogers, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Bee Gees, Dire Straits, The Little River Band, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Elvis Costello and many, many more.
Fitting, then, that in 1996 when the British Prime Minister’s office drew up the annual Queen Elizabeth birthday honors list, selecting 1,041 British subjects from a variety of different fields and walks of life, that George Martin would be sent an official letter from the Palace.
He remembered the day it arrived to Esquire magazine in 2002. “I opened an envelope which bore the marking of the Prime Minister. It said: ‘It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been recommended to be appointed a knight by Her Majesty the Queen. If you wish to accept this honor, please let us know by filling in the enclosed form. You will not hear from us again.’ I went white and said, ‘Bloody hell!’ My wife thought something awful had happened. I couldn’t speak so I gave the letter to her. She read it, went white and said, ‘Bloody hell!’ We went to Buckingham Palace and the Queen got her sword out and tried not to cut my head off.”
For the urbane and civilized Martin, the new title sat well. Already a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his services, he was now Sir George Martin, a knight of the realm, and would be properly addressed as Sir George.