Remember When the Beatles First Appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’

If there was any doubt that the Beatles – comprised of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison – were bonafide superstars, their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show proved otherwise. American culture changed on February 9, 1964, when the Beatles made their debut in front of American audiences on the CBS show, leading to a pop culture revolution.

Before they even stepped on the stage, they’d already proven themselves to have a following in the U.S., as “Love Me Do,” “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had topped the Billboard Hot 100. But the magnitude of their impact was evidenced by the thousands of fans who gathered at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to greet them when they landed on February 7. Meanwhile, a whopping 50,000 fans had submitted requests for tickets to the performance inside the 700-seat theater.

“Urban legend tells the story that Ed Sullivan first heard about the Beatles when he and his wife were at London airport returning to New York and witnessed 1,500 screaming fans welcoming the Beatles back to England after a successful tour in Sweden. But Ed knew about the Beatles months before that,” as explained on The Ed Sullivan Show website. “After seeing the Beatles reception on October 31, 1963 at the airport, Ed had interest in booking the Beatles.”

After Sullivan said the famous words, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles,” the foursome performed a handful of their classic hits over the course of two sets: “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” among others. The show was watched by a record 73 million people.

“Nobody realized the impact to come, how momentous it would be,” former Director of The Ed Sullivan Show John Moffitt said. “We didn’t talk about making history.”

It wasn’t merely a monumental moment for the Beatles and The Ed Sullivan Show, but the culture at large. Their first appearance on the show marked the official start of what’s known as the British Invasion, the cultural phenomenon in the 1960s wherein several bands from the United Kingdom exploded in the U.S. including the Rolling Stones, the Zombies, Herman’s Hermits and the Animals.

“Over and over again in all of the correspondence and all of the comments through the country, the unanimous opinion…is you are four thoroughly nice youngsters,” Sullivan told the Beatles during an interview in May 1964. “And I think that is actually the basis of your tremendous popularity.”

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