In late 1963, Ed Sullivan and his entourage happened also to be passing through Heathrow Airport in London and noticed huge crowds of people who were not here to catch a plane. Ed was informed that the crowds were there to greet a group called The Beatles. The group was returning from Stockholm, where they had performed a television show as warmup band to local star Lill Babs. Sullivan was intrigued, telling his entourage it was the same thing as Elvis Presley all over again. He initially offered Beatles manager Brian Epstein top dollar for a single show but the Beatles manager had a better idea—he wanted exposure for his clients: the Beatles would instead appear three times on the show, at bottom dollar, but receive top billing and two spots (opening and closing) on each show.
The Beatles appeared on three consecutive Sundays in early 1964 to great anticipation and fanfare as their single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had swiftly risen to No. 1 in the charts. Their first appearance on February 9, 1964 is considered a milestone in American pop culture and the beginning of a British Invasion in music.
Originating from CBS Studio 50 at 1697 Broadway, at 53rd Street, the broadcast drew an estimated 73 million viewers, at the time a record for US television. The Beatles followed Ed’s show opening intro, performing “All My Lovin’”; “Till There Was You”, and “She Loves You”. The act that followed Beatles in the broadcast was pre-recorded, rather than having someone perform live on stage amidst the pandemonium that occurred in the studio after the Beatles performed their first songs. The group returned later in the program to perform “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
The three Sullivan appearances would launch a musical career that would surpass that of Presley and Frank Sinatra. Later that summer, The Beatles returned for a hugely successful North American concert tour and would appear on the Ed Sullivan show one more time.