It was Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964. More than 73 million Americans gathered around their television sets for The Ed Sullivan Show.
Audiences had already witnessed iconic moments since it began in 1948, including a breakthrough performance by Elvis Presley on Sept. 9, 1956, which still holds the record for largest audience share for a series episode in television history with 82.6 percent of the national TV audience. But this night was different. This night the American public would see a band from across the pond that would initiate an international phenomenon.
With five words, host Ed Sullivan — a member of the Knight of Columbus — launched what would become known as Beatlemania.
“Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!”
Almost drowned out by the screaming, adoring fans, The Beatles played “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” and then concluded the broadcast with “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
This debut American performance influenced the course of music and television history. The popularity of The Beatles skyrocketed and those who witnessed the show, including future rock n’ roll stars like Tom Petty, Gene Simmons, Billy Joel and countless others, point to the Ed Sullivan Show as an influential moment that made them want to become musicians.
The Beatles would appear several more times on the Ed Sullivan Show, a program that continued to be a make-or-break touchstone for other musical acts such as The Doors, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye and The Supremes as well as comedy like for Rodney Dangerfield, George Carlin, Carol Burnett and Richard Pryor.
A few years prior to The Beatles’ first appearance on the show, in 1957, Ed Sullivan invited then-Supreme Knight Luke Hart to accept an introduction from the studio audience to mark the Order’s 75th anniversary. As Supreme Knight Hart would say in his address at the Supreme Convention that year, he accepted Sullivan’s offer and called him “brother,” signifying that he was a fellow Knight.
“It is said that [Sullivan] had an audience that night of forty million and I can well believe it, for the next day, I received many messages from people who had seen it — some from points as far distant as Seattle, Santa Fe, Houston, Jacksonville and Montreal,” Hart said.
Members of the Knights of Columbus, from Babe Ruth to President John F. Kennedy, have been stewards of culture, leaving a momentous mark on American society. Ed Sullivan’s show was voted number 31 in TV Guide Magazine’s 60 Best Series of All Time, after it ended its 23-year run on June 6, 1971.
Ed Sullivan, and other Knights’ impact on history, is explored in the new book The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History. The book features inspiring stories from more than 135 years of charity and fraternity paired with hundred of the best photos from the Knights of Columbus archives.
Influencing everything from local parish life to international pop culture, the more than 2 million Knights around the world continue to leave their mark.
Learn more about the Knights here.
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