Fifty years ago next Sunday, on Feb. 9, 1964, via “The Ed Sullivan Show,” America met the Beatles.
It was not the group’s first appearance on American television. CBS News had reported, dismissively, on British “Beatlemania,” and Jack Paar had aired on his talk show a clip of the band playing in England. Their music was in the charts, finally: After a year of outright refusal, Capitol Records (an American arm of EMI, the Beatles’ British label) was finally releasing and promoting their records. In “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the band had its first U.S. No. 1 About 3,000 fans greeted the Fab Four at the airport when they arrived in New York two days earlier.
But the Sullivan show was different. The TV version of vaudeville’s “playing the Palace,” it conferred a seal of approval, even of importance, on the acts that appeared there. On the air since the dawn of the medium and watched regularly by many millions, it was a national institution, a family tradition. (“Hymn for a Sunday Evening,” from the 1960 musical “Bye Bye, Birdie,” is a meditation on his very name.)
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