September 9, 2011 marks the 55th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Throughout 1956, Elvis Presley’s popularity had been growing fast as he went from being a regional performer in the South to a star on the national stage. Prior to The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis had appeared nationally on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, The Milton Berle Show and The Steve Allen Show. With each televised appearance, the craze that surrounded the young singer grew exponentially and on September 9, 1956, an unbelievable 82% of the television viewing audience tuned in for Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Many people forget that Ed Sullivan wasn’t even there the evening of September 9, 1956 for Elvis’s performance. Almost a month earlier, Ed Sullivan had been severely injured in a car crash and he was still hospitalized when Elvis debuted on his show. Instead, British actor Charles Laughton hosted the show, introducing Elvis with “…and now, away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley!”
Elvis Presley, in CBS’s Los Angeles studio, opened his appearance with “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.” Both songs seemed tame for Elvis who was facing some criticisms about the nature of his performance style. Elvis Presley returned later in the show to perform “Ready Teddy” and then after wishing Ed Sullivan a speedy recovery, Elvis, with the snarl of his lip and the shake of his hips, broke into a rousing performance of “Hound Dog.” 60 million people watched The Ed Sullivan Show that evening as Elvis Presley captured the hearts of young America.
Elvis performed two more times on The Ed Sullivan Show (October 28, 1956 & January 6, 1957) capping off a huge year for the performer. 1956 was the beginning of what would become The King’s unparalleled legacy.
For more great performances by The King of Rock and Roll check out this newly released collection of Elvis: The Great Performances.