John Winston (Ono) Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, in Liverpool, England. His parents divorced when he was a toddler, and Lennon was raised by his mother’s sister, Mimi. Lennon’s father was a merchant seaman who was not involved in Lennon’s life after the divorce. His mother, Julia, continued to be involved in her son’s life, teaching him a love of music and how to play the banjo, piano, and guitar. In 1958, when Lennon was 17, his mother was killed after being struck by a vehicle.
Inspired by Elvis Presley, Lennon continued to explore music after his mother’s death and formed the band The Quarrymen, named after his high school, in 1957. He met Paul McCartney and the two began writing songs together. The Quarrymen went through a couple of name changes and band members before the group eventually morphed into The Beatles. The band name “The Beatles” was inspired by Buddy Holly and the Crickets, another of Lennon’s musical role models. The Beatles were regular performers at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, and their big break came when they were discovered in 1961 by Brian Epstein, who became the band’s manager until his death from an accidental overdose of sleep aids in 1967.
In 1964, The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, their first American appearance, paving the way for other “British Invasion” bands such as The Rolling Stones. The Beatles were hugely popular, but a comment from Lennon about the band’s being “more popular that Jesus” sparked backlash, especially in the American South and Midwest, where people held bonfires to burn Beatles albums and memorabilia. The Beatles stopped touring shortly afterward in 1966. Their next album release, in 1967, was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, considered by some to be “the greatest rock project in musical history.”
Lennon left The Beatles in 1969, although he agreed not to make the news public until pending contract negotiations had been settled. He then embarked on a solo career. His album Imagine (1971) was his most commercially successful and critically acclaimed post-Beatles work. The title track was listed as Number 3 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of All-Time Best Songs. During the same year, Lennon moved to the US, but faced deportation by the Nixon Administration. Officially, the deportation was related to a British drug conviction from 1968. Lennon and second wife Yoko Ono, however, were heavily involved in social activism and anti-war protests related to the US involvement in Vietnam. It wasn’t until two years after Nixon’s resignation that Lennon was granted permanent residency.
In 1973, Ono and Lennon separated for 18 months, and Lennon moved to Los Angeles, where he collaborated with the likes of David Bowie and Elton John. After this period, which Lennon referred to as his “lost weekend,” he and Ono reconciled. Shortly thereafter, he “retired” from the music industry to focus on being a husband and father. Then, several years later, in 1980, Lennon returned to music with the release of Double Fantasy. His solo career seemed to be taking on a new, more optimistic direction. Sadly, on December 8, 1980, only a few weeks after the album’s release, Lennon was killed in front of his New York apartment by Mark David Chapman, a man claiming to be a fan, whom Lennon had given an autograph a few hours earlier.
Lennon had been married twice – first in 1962, to Cynthia Powell, who divorced Lennon on the grounds of infidelity in 1968. Lennon met his second wife, Yoko Ono, in 1966, and married her a year after his divorce from Powell, in 1969. In 1969, Lennon also changed his middle name from Winston to Ono. Lennon had two children, one from each marriage.
Lennon earned several awards, several of them posthumously. Double Fantasy was awarded a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1981. In 1988, Lennon was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is also a member of the Songwriters (1987) and the Rock and Roll (1994) Halls of Fame.
We are pleased to include in our “Timeless Favorites” playlist a significant number of The Beatles’ most popular hits, many of them written by Lennon – songs that are indeed timeless in their appeal.
(biography.com, rollingstone.com, beatlesbible.com)