From Coast to Coast: Elvis Presley’s First National TV Appearance

Elvis’ 1956 was full of firsts: his first album, his first movie and his first national television appearance.

Elvis made appearances on local and regional TV shows before his first national appearance on the Dorsey Brothers’ “Stage Show.” But for many fans across the United States, “Stage Show” gave them the first look at the young Elvis.

December 15, 1955: The deal was made.

December 15, 1955: The deal was made.

“Stage Show” started in 1954 as a summer replacement for “The Jackie Gleason Show.” Gleason served as the show’s executive producer, and he brought it back in 1955 with bandleaders Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey as hosts.

Elvis’ first appearance on “Stage Show” was January 28, 1956. He traveled with his bandmates, Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana and Bill Black, from Memphis to New York by car and arrived the day before.

The band rehearsed on the morning of January 28, and show time was 8 p.m.

Elvis was billed last on the theater's marquee.

Elvis was billed last on the theater’s marquee.

It was a rainy night, and Elvis was still relatively unknown, so there wasn’t a big crowd there to see the 21-year-old. Other guests on the show were singer Sarah Vaughan and comic Gene Sheldon.

Cleveland DJ Bill Randle introduced Elvis: “We’d like at this time to introduce you to a young fellow who, like many young performers – Johnny Ray among them – came out of nowhere to be an overnight big star. This young fellow we saw for the first time while making a movie short. We think tonight he’s going to make television history for you. We’d like you to meet him now – Elvis Presley.”

The 60th anniversary of this performance was this week, on January 28.

The 60th anniversary of this performance was this week, on January 28.

On that first performance, Elvis sang “Shake, Rattle and Roll” – and segued into “Flip, Flop and Fly” in the middle of it – and “I Got a Woman.” Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” was just released, but he didn’t perform it.

Elvis appeared on “Stage Show” five more times: February 4, February 11, February 18, March 17 and March 24.

Elvis' two-song performance totaled about five minutes of screen time.

Elvis’ first, two-song performance totaled about five minutes of screen time.

On his second performance, Elvis performed “Tutti Frutti” and “Baby Let’s Play House.” A week later, Elvis finally performed “Heartbreak Hotel,” as well as “Blue Suede Shoes.”

For his fourth performance a week later, he again sang “Tutti Frutti” and “I Was the One,” a B-side to his new single.

By the time of his sixth performance on March 17, “Heartbreak Hotel” was becoming a huge hit, so he performed it again, along with “Blue Suede Shoes.”

For his last “Stage Show” performance on March 24, Elvis sang “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Money Honey.”

Elvis was paid $1,250 for this appearance. Just a few years later, when he performed on the Frank Sinatra Show after serving in the Army, he was paid $125,000.

Elvis was paid $1,250 for this appearance. Just a few years later, when he performed on the Frank Sinatra Show after serving in the Army, he was paid $125,000.

He continued his television performances in 1956 by making two appearances on the “Milton Berle Show” in April and June, a July performance on the “Steve Allen Show” and September and October appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show” (his final Ed Sullivan appearance was in January 1957).

Elvis’ unique sound had everybody talking, but it was his energetic and magnetic performances on these shows that had everybody screaming. Elvis won over thousands of new fans with each performance, and helped solidify his status as the brand-new King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

1956 was just the start of Elvis’ incredible career. Learn more about the man and his music when you visit Graceland.


22 Comments

  1. Just great stuff.

  2. Jesper Ulrich

    We love Elvis !!

  3. The king

  4. Jackie Ainslie

    I remember the T. and J. Dorsey Bros. shows with Elvis like it was yesterday.. Raw and uncensored… They were the six best performances of his career as far as I’m concerned! I was 13 years old at the time and am so thankful I was a teenager in the 50’s!

    • Wow, amazing!

    • Janet Cummings

      Me too Jackie! I was also 13! But we didn’t have a TV for that performance…saw him later on TV. Those were the best years ever in so many ways. I did see Elvis in person that year in San Antonio, TX. Still have the “catalogue” Col. Parker had made up for it with many, many pictures of the young Elvis.

  5. Anthony Luizza

    Elvis always was and always will be the best.

  6. Bonnie Manning

    Thank you so much for sharing. I have friends now who watch Elvis impersonators. Such a tribute to him. Still the King!

  7. The major “first” was a white singer bringing the black culture into American homes: the people who smashed his records and denounced Elvis were really denouncing the integration of America. These early songs by Elvis were written by black artists and/or performed by black artists. Elvis even dressed like them. Who says music can’t change the world? it changed this country.

  8. This was a great article. Loved it.

  9. Anne Bauld

    I am best friend to Jackie Ainslie and I see she commented. We love Elvis and have been to Graceland MANY times. Elvis is second to none!!!

  10. Has anyone from EPE tried to locate that movie short Bill Randle is talking about when he says he first saw Elvis while filming it. It is considered the “Holy Grail” of Elvis film footage, pre- Col. Tom, and was shot on Oct. 20, 1955. The short was entitled “A Day In The Life Of A DJ”, aka “The Pied-Piper Of Cleveland”. Elvis sang 5 songs, and the documentary was filmed in color. Randle had a copy, which he was reported to have sold to Polygram Records around 1992. Years ago, when I asked Ernst Jorgensen if he had any idea where the film was, he said he didn’t know.

  11. We were very lucky to visit Gracelands in November 2015 as part of our USA trip.
    Just loved visiting Elvis’s home, Sun Studios and of-course HeartBreak Hotel.
    Elvis was an amazing individual who did a lot to help those less fortunate.
    Re today’s article ….great information ….. What an incredible man
    Can’t wait to return to the US and see more.
    Cheers

  12. Just love Elvis! His legend and his music will live on forever. Thanks to great tribute artists like Bill Cherry, Dean Z and David Lee who continue to honor the King of Rock & Roll with their performances.

  13. Elvis always was and always will be the king of rock and roll!
    His music makes me happy.

  14. I want to say again how much I appreciate EPE for allowing us to get this good info on my main man EP without any strings attached. Elvis would be proud also.
    Billy M., Longview, Texas

  15. Coltan smisek

    My favorite part of the appearances on the Dorsey Brothers stage show was when he did Baby Lets Play House!

  16. I cringe every time I hear someone say that Ed Sullivan put Elvis on television, as though he was first. Ed was determined to NOT have Elvis on his show until he saw how he drew audiences to the Milton Berle and Steve Allen shows. Thank you for the timeline of when Elvis actually appeared on television in the early days! Ed Sullivan was LAST NOT FIRST to put Elvis on his show. Long live the King…

  17. There was and is only one Elvis Presley. No one looks like him. No one sings like him (there are none to compare). No one will ever be loved so dearly by his admirers.
    God bless his precious memory.

  18. Pat Smith

    From the very first time I saw Elvis perform on the Dorsey Bros. Show, I was hooked as an eleven year old fan. Incredibly enough, my fifty year old grandmother, Edna, was mesmerized by Elvis, as well. We saw the show together in New York, and were lucky enough to see all the other early Elvis performances. Elvis’ energy and charisma strred the audiences then, and still do. Elvis Rules!!

  19. No dvd’s available on these shows. Why not?

  20. Yvonne Hart

    It’s great to get all the facts about Elvis from the people who know what they are talking about and I love to read all the comments from Elvis fans some lucky enough to have seen the shows back in 56/57 i have only seen the recordings of them which is exciting enough it must have been incredible back then Elvis really was a phenomenal performer. Thanks to all at EPE for taking cars of Elvis for his millions of fans around the world
    Yvonne
    England

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