George McGovern reached out for the youth vote in 1972, the first national election where voters 18 and older were eligible.
Part of that strategy was linking McGovern, then 50, with rock acts that were popular at the time. A concert held in Los Angeles on April 15, 1972, was a major part of the strategy.
Barbra Streisand, Carole King and James Taylor, all huge stars then and still performing and recording now, were the featured performers. (See photos of the event here.)
Quincy Jones, the musician and producer who has worked with Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson, led his orchestra to back Streisand for the show at the Fabulous Forum.
“They never sang better,” McGovern said Tuesday while reflecting on the concert, which was produced by movie star/director/producer Warren Beatty.
“That was one of the most pleasant nights of the entire bid for the presidency,” McGovern said. “We had that place just packed. You couldn’t get in. It was just jammed to the gills.”
He said almost 20,000 people paid up to $25, and there were some $100 “golden circle” tickets sold as well. The concert raised $500,000 for his campaign, McGovern said.
The performers worked for free, he said.
A few months earlier, Streisand had announced she would no longer do public performances, McGovern noted, but Beatty talked her into it, since she wasn’t “paid a dime,” McGovern said, and didn’t have to worry about criticism.
Streisand’s performance was taped and released as an album, which is still available. It also helped cure her of her stage fright, McGovern said, and she started to tour again.
Carole King and James Taylor were on first.
“They sang well, both of them,” McGovern said.
The show also featured an array of stars who served as ushers: Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Julie Christie, Gene Hackman, Burt Lancaster, Jon Voight, Sally Kellerman, Robert Vaughn, Mama Cass, John Philip Law, Peggy Lipton and Michelle Phillips.
There were also numerous celebrities in the audience, including Gregory Peck, Britt Eklund, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell.
McGovern took the stage with Taylor, King, Jones and Streisand at the end and gave a brief, upbeat speech. According to a story in The Village Voice, after the show McGovern attended a post-concert party with the rock stars and actors.
McGovern said he has stayed in touch with the performers who boosted his 1972 campaign.
James Taylor recently did a concert in St. Augustine, Fla., near where McGovern maintains a home, and McGovern said they chatted the day of the show.
“He still sounds great,” he said.
McGovern had dinner with Streisand last year and may see her when he makes a stop for a book signing in California this year, he said.
McGovern said he has remained close to Beatty, whom he said was a key figure in the campaign.
“Yes he was. The guy loves politics,” he said. “He invited me to come to his house when I come to California.”
McGovern said he hoped the concert and other events linked to younger voters would have helped him in the election. McGovern said his opposition to the Vietnam War was a centerpiece to his campaign, and he hoped to gain support from the young people most impacted by the war. “They had to go out there and fight and bleed and die,” McGovern said. “They were against the war and it’s no surprise. They certainly were patriots and love their country.
“The young people go out there and do the fighting and dying.”
But in the end, the youth vote didn’t rally around McGovern in November.