NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t


Self portrait of photographer Astrid Kirchherr.

FRESH AIR: Astrid Kirchherr, who took the first publicity photos of a then-struggling rock group called The Beatles, died last week. She was 81 years old. In 1960, young Astrid had just completed a photography course at the College of Fashion and Design in Hamburg when her boyfriend, Klaus Voormann, took her to the seedy Kaiserkeller in Hamburg’s red-light district. He wanted to show her a new rock group from Liverpool he had discovered the night before.

When Astrid met the group in 1960, The Beatles consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and two others. Pete Best, not Ringo Starr, was the drummer then. And Stu Sutcliffe, an art student friend of Lennon’s, played bass, but not well. Before long, he quit the group to pursue his art career and live with Astrid, who quickly became his girlfriend. She gave him, then the other Beatles, what’s now known as the moptop Beatles haircut and also photographed the group in many now-iconic formative photographs. Stu Sutcliffe died in 1962 at age 21 of a brain hemorrhage. Astrid became a professional photographer.

The 2008 book of photographs by Kirchherr and fellow photographer Max Scheler called Yesterday: The Beatles Once Upon A Time captured The Beatles in 1964, during the first flush of Beatlemania. When the book came out, Astrid Kirchherr visited FRESH AIR and told Terry Gross about the first time she saw The Beatles perform in that small cellar club in Hamburg. MORE