Beatles TV Special Relives Ed Sullivan Breakthrough

50th Anniversary celebrations continue apace with two-hour show to feature contemporary star cover acts.

The Beatles meet Ed Sullivan

THE NIGHT THAT CHANGED America: A GRAMMY® Salute To The Beatles is to air on America’s CBS network on Sunday, February 9 at 8pm, precisely 50 years to the hour after The Beatles’ groundbreaking debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. The two-hour TV special will feature performances of Beatles songs by many of music’s biggest stars, broadcast in HDTV and 5.1 surround sound.

The February 9, 1964 Ed Sullivan broadcast is often cited as the big bang of the so-called British Invasion, with 74 million viewers in the U.S. and millions more in Canada tuning in to watch The Beatles make their American television debut.

The Beatles Are Coming: US ad
…or at least, their hair is…

The show’s normally dry, Nixon-like host introduced them portentously, saying, “Now, yesterday and today our theatre’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that this city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles.”

From the show’s New York studios, the Beatles traveled to Washington, DC, performing their first Stateside concert on February 11 at the Washington Coliseum to 8,000 fans in the round.

The Beatles then returned to New York for two sold-out Carnegie Hall concerts on February 12. On February 16, they made their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in a live broadcast from The Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. Viewership for the episode was nearly as strong as for their debut, with an estimated 70 million people – 40 per cent of the American population -tuned in to watch.

The Beatles’ conquest of America had begun. Subsequent to their February 1964 blitz, by April 5 they had 12 songs on the US singles chart, including the chart’s Top 5 positions. July would inject the Beatles into American cinemas in the form of the A Hard Day’s Night film and August would bring a month-long, record smashing US tour.

America – still reeling from the JFK assassination of the previous November – would never be the same.

The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Miami, February 16, 1964
The Beatles on their second Ed Sullivan appearance, broadcast live from Miami, February 16, 1964.

PHOTO: © Apple Corps Ltd


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