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The Beatles on Ed Sullivan: Fifty Years Ago Today

Ringo, George, Ed, John and Paul February 9, 1964
Ringo, George, Ed, John and Paul February 9, 1964
Fifty Years ago today the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. If you are a baby boomer you probably watched this show live on CBS. If you are older and had teen or preteen children in 1964 you probably watched this show too and wondered what the fuss was all about. Why are those young girls screaming? Well, why did all those "bobby soxers" scream for the young Frank Sinatra in the 40's? If you were not alive in 1964, the significance of this event is probably lost on you.

Fifty years ago there were three channels on television: CBS, NBC and ABC. Sunday nights were dominated by the Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. Ed Sullivan was a famed New York newspaper columnist from Port Chester, N.Y., who was notoriously stiff television host but managed to present a weekly variety show on live television featuring the best available acts, including leading figures in rock and roll. His legacy may be seen in the late night shows like the Tonight Show and David Letterman. The Broadway show "Bye, Bye Birdie" captured the excitement of the Ed Sullivan Show when the family sang "Hymn for a Sunday Evening"with the lyric: "How could any family be, half as fortunate as we, we'll be coast to coast, with our favorite host, Ed Sullivan." Tonight at 8 pm CBS will celebrate this legacy by broadcasting "Grammy Salute to the Beatles."

Although younger people may be unmoved by the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, they are probably familiar with the Beatles' music. Watching a rebroadcast of the Beatles' performance on Ed Sullivan, it is amazing how well their set passed the test of time. They performed five songs (All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There and I Want To Hold Your Hand), all of which celebrated the power of young love the week of St. Valentine's Day. After the show the Beatles went on to party until the wee hours at The Playboy Club and the Peppermint Lounge. For the rest of us, as we turned off our sets we knew we had witnessed history and would never be the same again. The Beatles came back to perform two more sets on Ed Sullivan in February, 1964.

Thinking back, it is remarkable to recall we were less than three months away from vicariously experiencing a very different, darker history unfold in Dallas as we watched continuous coverage of the Kennedy assassination. That our national anguish was followed only three months later by an occasion of national joy, and for some ecstasy, is truly amazing.


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