Celebrating Elvis Presley's First Appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (September 9, 1956)

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Welcome to the official blog of Elvis Presley’s Graceland! You can take Elvis-inspired quizzes, get first-looks on events here at Graceland and how-to guides on everything you need to know about Elvis and his home. Like Elvis, we come with a little southern charm

Celebrating Elvis Presley's First Appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (September 9, 1956)

The Ed Sullivan Show is celebrating the king with a special rollout of Elvis' performances on the show revamped in HD. Tune in to The Ed Sullivan Show's official YouTube channel to check out all of these great tribute videos!

64 years ago today, more than 60 million people watched Elvis Presley perform on "The Ed Sullivan Show." 

Elvis' first performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" took place on September 9, 1956. At this point in his life, he'd already performed on national television shows like the Dorsey Brothers' "Stage Show" and "The Milton Berle Show." He'd released his debut album, was filming his first movie, and had a few hit songs on the charts, like "Heartbreak Hotel." He was still living on Audubon Drive in Memphis and wouldn't purchase Graceland for another few months. Elvis was famous, but he was on his way to becoming the most famous man in America and changing music forever. 

However, Elvis had not yet been booked on the country's most popular variety show, "The Ed Sullivan Show." And the show's host had promised he wouldn't feature the then-controversial young singer; Elvis had a reputation among conservative leaders and parents for his performances, which they often labeled as inappropriate or even dangerous. Many adults were outraged by his bumps, grinds and gyrating hips. Elvis was simply unlike any other performer they'd ever seen, and they were concerned. For this reason, Ed Sullivan initially refused to book him on his show as he wanted to distance himself from the harsh criticism that Presley was receiving.

It was a surprise, then, when Ed announced in the summer of 1956 that Elvis would perform not just once, but three times on his show. Ed had watched Elvis' career blossom and knew he'd pull in high ratings if he allowed Elvis to perform, so the King of Rock 'n' Roll was to be paid $50,000 for all three performances - an unprecedented amount at the time.

On September 9, 1956, neither Elvis or Ed Sullivan were in the studios that day for filming. A month before Elvis' appearance on his show, Ed suffered from an almost fatal automobile crash that left him hospitalized for weeks and was unable to recover from his injuries quick enough. British actor Charles Laughton filled in and served as host for Presley’s debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis himself wasn't in New York City, where "The Ed Sullivan Show" was filmed, and was seen from Hollywood where he was in the middle of filming "Love Me Tender." 

The show was a huge success!  60 million people, or 82.6 percent of the entire television audience, watched Elvis perform "Don't Be Cruel," "Love Me Tender," "Ready Teddy" and a few verses of "Hound Dog." "Love Me Tender" had not yet been released, so fans ate up the new single - which only increased the hype for the new movie and its soundtrack.

Elvis returned to "The Ed Sullivan Show" - this time with Ed hosting, and in New York City - on October 28, 1956, and lived up to his reputation by gyrating and moving his hips which once again attracted controversy as viewers were treated to a full frame of Elvis performing “Love Me Tender”, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog.” This performance also earned the wrath of certain sections of society and the press, as Rock and Roll began to receive harsh and negative criticism for its bad influence on the American youth. All the while, Elvis' fan base just continued to grow.

Elvis' third and final performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" was two days before his 22nd birthday, on January 6, 1957. Wearing the same velvet shirt he wore at his homecoming concert in Tupelo in September of 1956, Elvis performed a mix of hits, like "Love Me Tender," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again,” and "Too Much," as well as the gospel song "Peace in the Valley." 

He put on an amazingly energetic show, and he thrilled the live audience, who cheered and screamed with his every move. But the audience at home only saw, for the most part, Elvis from the waist up. They heard the audience's cheers and screams, but they didn't see what exactly was causing them. Elvis' now-famous dance moves simply went unseen by millions that night.

Rumor has it that CBS and Ed Sullivan received angry calls from those who were offended by Elvis' first two performances, so the decision was made to only show Elvis from the waist up for that third appearance. Elvis from the waist down was deemed too wild, too obscene, and too much for American audiences to handle. 

At the conclusion of that final show, Ed Sullivan wished Elvis well and told the audience that Elvis was a "real decent, fine boy... We want to say that we've never had a pleasanter experience with a big name than we've had with you."  This endorsement even further validated Elvis to a wide audience as he humbly accepted the compliments. 

All three of Elvis' Ed Sullivan Show performances served as stepping stones to his success - and the cool, bad boy reputation Elvis garnered through the process only helped his career en route to becoming the most popular solo artist in the history of entertainment. 

The Gates of Graceland are open! Right now is a great time to see first-hand why Elvis Presley's legendary home is so often voted the "#1 Most Iconic Attraction in America."  Plan your visit today! 



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