U.S. television variety show host Ed Sullivan and his wife were on their way home from a European talent scouting trip, changing planes at London’s Heathrow Airport. The Beatles were arriving back from a tour of Sweden. They were greeted by hundreds of screaming teenage girls and a crowd of journalists. Sullivan saw the commotion.
His talent coordinator Jack Babb had already seen The Beatles perform when the show’s London talent scout Peter Pritchard had taken him to see the band in concert the previous summer. But since no English musical groups had broken through in America, they weren’t considered for a booking. Beatles manager Brian Epstein had been trying to get Capitol Records, the U.S. arm of the band’s British label EMI, to release their music in the States, but to no avail for much the same reason.
When Epstein flew to New York City in early November primarily to try to get bookings for another client, Billy J. Kramer, Pritchard offered to set up a meeting with Sullivan. Epstein was able to negotiate a series of appearances for The Beatles on Sullivan’s top-rated Sunday night CBS-TV show, starting on February 9, 1964. As Sullivan said later, “I made up my mind that this was the same sort of mass hit hysteria that had characterized the Elvis Presley days.”
The Sullivan booking enabled Epstein to get Capitol Records to release “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which was #1 on the Billboard chart by the time the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February. By the first week of April, the Beatles had 12 songs on the U.S. singles chart and occupied all of the top five slots. Beatlemania had arrived in America.
Little known fact: The Beatles first performance on U.S. TV was on The Jack Parr Program on January 3, 1964. The show had taped an English performance by the band the previous fall.
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