The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, February 1964
It was sixty years ago today (not quite but nearly!). Hard to grasp for those of us who remember it—not exactly “Yesterday” but certainly “All Those Years Ago.” It’s almost impossible for young people today to imagine a time when an entire generation watched the same live television program together—being profoundly changed by the same thing at the same moment.
And what a moment it was! Booked as an “act for the youngsters,” the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (watched by 73 million viewers) was a true cultural watershed. Kids across America sat awkwardly by their parents that Sunday night, watching their world change while the adults rolled their eyes and made derisive comments (“How long do you think they will last?”).
It was a new world, and we knew it—not in retrospect, but in the moment. The world shifted on its axis and our time had begun. The Sixties were kickstarted, and the Beatles remained a central—and essential—presence in our world as the Beatleboomers blossomed into the counterculture and the Woodstock Generation.
This presentation will celebrate that pivotal moment in time, and the sheer joy of seeing the young and impossibly perfect Beatles for the very first time in America.
Glenn Gass is Provost and Rudy Professor Emeritus in the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. He created a series of courses on the history of rock music that were the first to be offered through a music school, and which are now the longest-running courses of their kind in the world.