The Ed Sullivan Show became a mecca for groundbreaking performances and is revered as the quintessential variety show. Bringing people and families together every Sunday evening at 8 pm, The Ed Sullivan Show was more than a TV broadcast, but a ritual among millions. Airing for 23 years, the show witnessed several shifts in pop culture including the birth of Rock n’ Roll music. Showcasing several paramount Rock n’ Roll acts over its two decade long career, The Ed Sullivan show, though often criticized for its conservatism, displayed historic and innovative performances that shaped the music industry.
On August 7, 1955, Bill Haley and His Comets became the first Rock n’ Roll act to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. This performance of “Rock Around the Clock” brought Rock n’ Roll into the homes of millions across the nation and can be credited for increasing the popularity of the relatively new and unheard genre of music.
Elvis Presley made his first of two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956. While performing “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Ready Teddy,” and “Hound Dog” the camera continually shifts to close up’s of Elvis’ face just as he begins to dance. The shrieks and shrills erupting from the audience alluded to the fact that Elvis had begun to swivel and twist his hips, something that was seen as far too vulgar to air on national television at the time. This became one of the first notable uses of censorship during a musical performance. Little did anyone know it would only leave the audiences even further intrigued by the half torso dancing man.
The Beatles had their first and long awaited live performance in America on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. With the chart topping success of their #1 single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” The Beatles popularity had ignited a fire of pandemonium. Their album I Want to Hold Your Hand had sold 250,000 copies in the first three days and by January had sold over a million units. Radio’s played the band’s music on a continuous loop and the nation, which had gone into a deep depression in moral after the assassination of President Kennedy, was prepared to welcome the four mop top boys with open arms. 73 million people tuned in to watch The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show that February. That number not only made television and music history, but when broken down exposes that 40% of Americans tuned in that night and that 60% of televisions were channeled in to The Ed Sullivan Show. This uproar of success and absolute love for The Beatles is what began that British Invasion and paved the way for other British bands to claim American notoriety.
Though only having enough time to discuss three, there are many significant performances in Rock n’ Roll history that took place on The Ed Sullivan Show; The Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly, The Animals, The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, Santana, Roy Orbison, Mamas & Papas, Johnny Cash, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin… The list goes on and on. The Ed Sullivan Show created an outlet that allowed a new genre of music to reach millions of people, something that otherwise may not have occurred. The Ed Sullivan Show will go down in history as one of the most successful variety shows of all time but in the Rock n’ Roll world it will be seen as a key element that trigger rock’s popularity and effected the entire nation.