What did Elvis Presley play in his first appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’?

Ed Sullivan didn’t want Elvis Presley on his show. The 21-year-old singer was becoming a phenomenon around America, spearheading rock and roll music for a new generation of white fans. Presley’s exuberant performance style had already been a hit on The Milton Berle Show and The Steve Allen Show, but Sullivan didn’t consider Presley to be appropriate for television. In fact, Sullivan had considered Presley to be “unfit for family viewing”.

But Sullivan was backed into a corner. As the host of America’s most popular variety programme, it was up to Sullivan to present the nation’s most popular acts. Whether he liked it or not, Presley was becoming a major star. His appearance on The Steve Allen Show caused a boost in Allen’s ratings, which directly competed with Sullivan’s. In order to stay on top, Sullivan had to swallow his pride and make a deal with Col. Tom Parker to sign Presley.

In an ironic twist, Sullivan wasn’t able to host the show where Presley made his first appearance. Six weeks before the musician’s appearance, the presenter had gotten into a serious car accident that caused him to take a break from hosting the show. On September 9th, 1956, British actor Charles Laughton hosted The Ed Sullivan Show and introduced Presley to most of the television-watching country.

Presley performed two sets during his appearance. In the first, Presley sang ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ while being backed by his vocal group, The Jornanaires. For his second song of the set, Presley debuted what would be his next single, ‘Love Me Tender’. Largely thanks to his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, pre-orders for the ‘Love Me Tender’ single exceeded 1million copies.

For his second set, Presley performed Little Richard’s ‘Ready Teddy’ and a truncated version of ‘Hound Dog’ along with his band. Although popular lore stated that Sullivan was nervous enough about Presley’s movements that he only shot him from the waist up, surviving footage from his performance shows Presley fully in frame.

By the time the episode was done airing, more than 60million viewers had tuned in to watch Presley. 82% of the American television-watching public tuned their sets to CBS in order to watch Presley perform, a record that still stands today. Sullivan and Presley might have been at odds during their initial negotiations, but they wound up being mutually beneficial as Presley became the biggest singer in America.

Watch Presley perform ‘Hound Dog’ during his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show down below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mick Jagger John & Yoko’s Elvis Presley & Priscilla Presley