Ed Sullivan

By Gary:

This post will be very different and unfortunately will only be relevant to North Americans as his show was only on TV in Canada and the United States.  I will take a look at Edward Vincent Sullivan. He was not a musician; he did not write music; he really did not have any talent in that area.  He was not the nicest person on the planet; he had run-ins, with Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley just to name a few. 

Here is his biography https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Sullivan   His significance was that in 1948 he was hired to host a TV show called “Toast of the Town” and it would later be called the “Ed Sullivan Show”. 

I will be honest I watched this show from 1954 until the mid to late 60’s.  He was stiff, not a very nice guy, but every Rock star wanted to be on his show because of it’s power. 

It’s history:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ed_Sullivan_Show   He fought with the artists, but the support of the new “Teenager” was not lost on him. 

Now let’s attempt to get this correct.  From everything I have read the name “Teenager” started in the 40’s but gained strength and popularity in the 50’s because of their increased spending power and how they could have an affect on many commercial markets.  The theory is  they became a real entity around 1953.

I personally did not care for the man, but I loved the fact that when he figured out that Rock and Roll meant “Ratings” and it also meant money, he used his power to have some of the greatest Rock and Roll and R&B artists on his show.  I will just highlight or present the significant performances that I remember.

The Ed Sullivan Show with Elvis  June 20, 1948, to March 28, 1971

Elvis Aaron Presley:  (According to Sullivan biographer Michael David Harris, “Sullivan signed Presley when the host was having an intense Sunday-night rivalry with Steve Allen. Allen had the singer on July 1 and trounced Sullivan in the ratings. When asked to comment, [Sullivan] said that he wouldn’t consider presenting Presley before a family audience. Less than two weeks later he changed his mind and signed a contract.”)   You have it now, Sullivan would not have Elvis on his program until he appeared on the Dorsey’s Stage Show and Steve Allen and the “Teenagers” drove the ratings out of site and destroyed Sullivan.  Remember this was September 1956.

Elvis on Sullivan 1956:

Why Elvis Presley was censored on the Ed Sullivan Show

Hound Dog /  September 9, 1956 / 


Don’t Be Cruel / September 9, 1956 / 


Hound Dog /  October 28, 1956 / 


Peace in the Valley and Too Much / January 6, 1957 / 



Eventually Sullivan liked Elvis and even said so on TV, which was a complete reversal.

Ed Sullivan and Bo Diddley

Now one year before Ed and Bo Diddley had a disagreement:  This the performance we saw November 20 1955 / 


Bo Diddley

For his second Sullivan appearance in 1955, Bo Diddley planned to sing his namesake hit, “Bo Diddley“, but Sullivan told him to perform Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song “Sixteen Tons”. “That would have been the end of my career right there,” Diddley told his biographer, so he sang “Bo Diddley” anyway. Sullivan was enraged: “You’re the first black boy that ever double-crossed me on the show,” Diddley quoted him as saying. “We didn’t have much to do with each other after that.

1958 / Ed Sullivan and Buddy Holly

Ed Sullivan and Buddy Holly

On January 26, 1958, Buddy Holly and the Crickets made their second and final appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show—this time earning the well-known wrath of the host.

They were scheduled to perform their hit “Oh, Boy!,” but Sullivan told them to substitute it because he felt it was too raucous. You can imagine how that went over, though, and Holly told him he’d already told his hometown friends that was the song he was going to be performing. And that was that.
Sullivan summoned the Crickets to a last-minute rehearsal the afternoon of the show, but when he got to their dressing room only Holly was there. When asked where the others were, Holly said, “I don’t know. No telling.” Sullivan said, “Well, I guess The Crickets are not too excited to be on The Ed Sullivan Show,” to which Holly replied, “I hope they’re damn more excited than I am.” By that time Ed was completely steamed.

He cut the Crickets’ act from two songs to one, and he mispronounced Holly’s name when he introduced them as “Buddy Hollet and his Crickets.” In addition, the line feed for Holly’s electric guitar was turned off, and he tried to compensate by singing as loudly as he could and repeatedly trying to turn up the volume on his guitar. He finally let loose with a dramatic solo during the instrumental break so the audience would know the technical fault wasn’t his.

In the end Buddy Holly and the Crickets were so well received that Sullivan invited them back for a third time, but Holly’s response was that Sullivan didn’t have enough money for that.

1958 / The Controversial “Oh Boy” / 


1957 / December 1 / That’ll be the day and Peggy Sue


Ed Sullivan and Bob Dylan: 

Bob Dylan was slated to make his first nationwide television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 12, 1963. For the show, Dylan decided to perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, a satirical blues number skewering the conservative John Birch Society and the red-hunting paranoia associated with it.

Today in 1963, Bob Dylan walked out of rehearsals for The Ed Sullivan Show after being told he couldn’t perform his song “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues” due to it mocking the US military and segregation.

Bob Dylan

Ah, yes the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger. 

Well they appeared many times on his show but in 1967 this happened

On this day (Jan. 15) in 1967, The Rolling Stones performed on The Ed Sullivan Show under one condition — they change the lyric of their 1967 hit “Let’s Spend The Night Together” to the more family-friendly “let’s spend some time together.” It was reported that Sullivan’s exact words were, “Either the song goes, or you go.”

Well, they capitulated but watch Jagger roll his eyes while singing 

Ed and Jim Morrison: 

Well Jim did not capitulate to the CBS sensors and would not change the word of Light my Fire


Here is a description of what happened 


Jim Morrison and The Doors

Now it wasn’t all confrontational because that Cantankerous old guy did give us some of the greatest acts ever and here are some of them:  Remember Ed preferred “Live” music and he had a great orchestra.

Ed Sullivan presents Bill Haley and His Comets

In 1955 Ed Sullivan gave us Bill Haley and His Comets with the biggest song of the Year from Blackboard Jungle and it was live 


NEW YORK – AUGUST 07: Bill Haley and His Comets perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on August 7, 1955 in New York, New York City. (Photo by Steve Oroz/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In 1957 Ed gave us the Everly Brothers 


  and then 12 years later they had changed 


The Everly Brothers

In 1957 Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids were on his show. 

I know it’s not a big thing BUT I was in the audience.  I was 17, I went with my friend, first plane ride, first time in NYC and it started my interest in travelling and it has never stopped.


The Beach Boys 1964: 

Say what you want, they were great.  My friends in 63/64 would give me a hard time because I bought their records and enjoyed their music.  You see, my friends were all hardcore R&B fans.

Here they are 1964 “Live” / 



Ed Sullivan with The Beach Boys

And in 1968, man they had changed 



The Ed Sullivan show ran from 1948 until 1971, a total of 23 years.  Now the rock and roll influence started around 1954.  Ed could no longer ignore the serge of the “New” class of humans know as “ Teenagers”.  So basically he had Rock and Roll Artists on the show for 17 years.  It’s impossible to mention all of them, so I will highlight the ones that I remember. 

Now Aretha Franklin was due to perform in 1964 but the CBS censors cut her.  She says it had to do with the gown showing to much cleavage, but she also says she changed gowns and was still cut.  She was 17 and devasted.  It was Ed’s loss as we all know she was known as the Queen of Soul. 

The heaviest concentration of Rock stars was in the 60’s so I will show you the ones that made a mark with me. 

The show was cancelled in 1971 because of ratings as they failed to garner the younger audience.

In 1969 I remember this performance by, maybe one of the best funk groups ever, Sly and the Family Stone / 


Let’s take a look at the Four Seasons.  It was a few years ago I noticed that they were on National Television as the Four Lovers.  The video is not great but in was 1956 on the Ed Sullivan Show 


The Four Lovers with Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito

Then they hit the Big time as The Four Seasons in 1962 


The Four Seasons – Big Girls Don’t Cry [Ed Sullivan 1962]



Then in October of 1966 


In 1964 one of the best of the Mersey Beat groups, The Searchers (my opinion) appeared on Ed’s Show.  They were are real Rock and Roll band and had two great guitar players who just rocked.  


The Searchers

February 9, 1964:  I remember the night a long with 73 Million other viewers I watched when Ed introduced us to the Beatles.  This is their entire first performance 


Ed Sullivan smiles while standing with The Beatles on the set of his variety show on Feb. 9, 1964

Then in October of 1964 one of my Favourite British Groups, The Animals with Eric Burdon.  October 19, 1964 /


Feb 6, 1966 Love this song 


Black and White History – The Animals with Ed Sullivan, 1966

March 19, 1967 / The Lovin’ Spoonful with John Sebastian / 


Then Bald Headed Lena featuring Canadian Guitarist the late Zal Yonofsky 


May 28, 1967 all of the Original Temptations / 


Ed Sullivan with The Great Temptations

In January of 1970, Ed had to be having ratings problems as he allowed one of the Greatest but wildest R&B acts on the show.  As John Denver once said “Tina Turner was put on the earth to teach women how to walk in high heel shoes” and Ed presented the Ike and Tina Turner Revue no holds barred. 

Staying in the same vein, May 1, 1966 Ed Sullivan introduced us to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown and the Original Flames.

James Brown

On December 14, 1969, Ed would introduce us to a very young Michael Jackson and his brothers, The Jackson 5.


This would be the first of two appearances.   May 10, 1970

The Jackson 5

Let’s go back when in April of 1956 Ed gave us Fat’s Domino

Fats Domino dies at 89

It took until November of 1969 for the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis to make it

What’d I Say (Performed live on the Ed Sullivan Show / 1969

October 22, 1961 Ed gave us Chubby Checker and the Twist.  He made the mistake of saying the inventor of the twist.  Hank Ballard wrote the Twist in 1958 and it was a hit in 1959.  It was the B side of the recording.

Chubby Checker

December 1967 Ray Charles just exploded onto the Ed Sullivan Show with Billy Preston singing and dancing to Edwin Starr’s Double – O – Soul.

then Ray sang Yesterday 


In December 1968 What’d I say  Yea that’s Billy Preston on the Organ 


American singer, songwriter and pianist Ray Charles (1930-2004) performs live on stage at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island on 7th July 1968. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)

On May 25, 1969 the great soul duo, “Sam & Dave” appeared on Ed’s Show 


There really could be no end to this post as no matter who or what he was, if you were on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, then man you had made it. 

I will end this post with a person I believe was the “Greatest” all-round, singer, song writer, musician and performer the Late Bobby Darin.  He first appeared on the show on May 31, 1959 to sing two songs.  The man did not even try but he defined “COOL”.  




In January of 1960 what appears to be a surprise Ed had Bobby Darin and Connie Francis sing together.  Now if you know the history Connie loved Bobby but her father would not allow her to date an “Entertainer” with no future.  But on January 3, 1960 Ed got them sing together. 



7 responses to “Ed Sullivan

  1. Also: The Kinks, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Little Stevie Wonder, Wayne & Shuster (many occasions) and of course the balancing act guys who spun plates on upright broom stick handles.

  2.  thanks

  3. That is a heck of a list. I particularly enjoyed Billy Preston and Ray Charles. I had never seen that. We all watched Ed because of the acts and the music but he was one wooden guy.

  4. Don’t forget Topo Gijo(sic) This is one of your best posts ever! Thank You…

  5. Wow ! What a parade of talent. This post has led me to explore the talents of Jerry Lee Lewis whom I had always dismissed as a freak act. I have just spent this morning viewing his repertoire vis F/B and have gained much respect for his talent.Thanks Chaps

  6. Absolutely stellar posting!!! Particularly Ray Charles and Billy Preston singing my dear friend Edwin’s hit “Double-O-Soul” and Connie Francis & Bobby Darin whom I loved as well. Many others on here incl. The Temptations who were always awesome!! Thank you for this great post!

  7. Every Sunday night 8:00 from the time my dad brought home our first TV, a second hand black & white RCA, our family watched The Ed Sullivan Show. I can remember watching many of these acts when they were first broadcast live – yes, it was a live show, not pre-taped. Thanks for posting this one. It brings back many memories.

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