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February 10, 2020

Feb. 9, 1964: The Beatles Made Their Ed Sullivan Show Debut in Their First Trip to the United States

On Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, over 73 million Americans gathered around television sets to see what all the excitement was about. For several weeks American radio stations had been saturating the airwaves with Beatles music. The power of radio had led to sales of millions of Beatles singles and albums. For weeks, the country had been warned “The Beatles Are Coming!” The American press picked up on the story, with several magazines and newspapers running feature stories on the group. Two days earlier, CBS and ABC showed film of The Beatles’ arrival in America at New York’s Kennedy Airport on their evening news shows. But the big event was The Beatles’ first live appearance on American television, which took place on the country’s most popular variety program, “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Ed Sullivan, the “king of Sunday night television,” booked The Beatles for three appearances after seeing the response of fans during a visit to London. Before their debut on the show, The Beatles’ record “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was leaked to radio stations across the country. By Jan. 10, 1964, the album had sold more than 1 million units and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the No. 1 song on the Billboard charts.

Taken during the rehearsal for The Beatles’ live U.S. television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” these photographs capture the Fab Four on the eve of a landmark moment in American pop culture history.

Following the appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the phenomenon of Beatlemania swept the country. John, Paul, George and Ringo secured their place in American hearts and spurred an invasion of British rock ‘n’ roll that altered the face of popular music in the U.S.

In this Feb. 9, 1964, file photo, Ed Sullivan, center, stands with The Beatles, from left, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney, during a rehearsal for the British group's first American appearance, on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” in New York. The Beatles made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” America’s must-see weekly variety show, on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, and officially kicked off Beatlemania.

The Beatles are shown on the set of the “Ed Sullivan Show” in New York in February 1964. In back is John Lennon; the others, from left to right, are: George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney.

The Beatles’ Paul McCartney on the set of the “Ed Sullivan Show” in New York.

The Beatles, from left, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr on drums, George Harrison and John Lennon, perform on the CBS “Ed Sullivan Show” in New York.

The Beatles perform on the CBS “Ed Sullivan Show” in New York.

Paul McCartney shows his guitar to host Ed Sullivan before the Beatles’ live television appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in New York.

The Beatles’ Ringo Starr plays drums on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in New York.

The Beatles are shown during rehearsals on the set of the “Ed Sullivan Show” in New York on Feb. 9, 1964.

The Beatles are shown during rehearsals on the set of the “Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964. On drums is Ringo Starr, bassist and singer is Paul McCartney, and standing in for George Harrison is Neil Aspinall, the Beatles’ road manager.

Harry Benson photographed the Beatles during their watershed “Ed Sullivan” performance on Feb. 9, 1964. “After the show there was still the nervous tension from being on stage,” Benson has said. “Back in the hotel they crashed in (manager Brian Epstein’s) protective presence, trying to unwind, away from the loud confusion of the screaming fans.”

Ed Sullivan talks with three members of The Beatles during a rehearsal for their appearance on his TV show, in New York, Feb. 8, 1964. From left, Sullivan, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. George Harrison, the fourth member of the group, missed the rehearsal due to illness.

Ed Sullivan smiles while standing with The Beatles on the set of his television variety series in New York on Feb. 9, 1964. Left to right: Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Sullivan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney.

American speed skating champion Terry McDermott, a barber by trade, prepares to take a swipe at the famed locks of Beatle Paul McCartney, seated, to the mock horror of the other Beatles and TV host Ed Sullivan during rehearsals at the TV studio in New York on Feb. 9, 1964. From left, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, McDermott, Ed Sullivan and John Lennon.

A crush of fans who want to see The Beatles at the Paramount Theater for a benefit show during the band’s first visit to New York, during which they also appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and played two concerts at Carnegie Hall in February 1964. (Photo: Jack Manning / The New York Times)

Beatles fans watch their heroes perform on the “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February 1964. (Photo: Central Press / Getty Images)

The Beatles make a windswept arrival in New York on Feb. 7, 1964 as they step down from the plane that brought them from London to Kennedy airport. From left to right, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

Harry Benson traveled from London to New York City with the Beatles on Feb. 7, 1964. “I was behind the four Beatles when we disembarked and I had asked them to wave up at me for a picture,” Benson recalled in his 2003 book, “Once there was a way...” “They almost forgot but Ringo remembered and made them turn around.” (Photo: Handout)

The Beatles wave at the crowds gathered below their hotel room at the Plaza, shortly after arriving in New York on Feb. 7, 1964.

The Beatles appear on a television monitor during a rehearsal in New York for their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964.

Ed Sullivan is shown with The Beatles on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City for their 1964 U.S. debut.

(Photos: Associated Press)


  1. I remember sitting upclose to the tv and watching this.i was 10 and in love with paul lol

  2. I remember it well.....I was 10 and it was fantastic!!! And it never changed....still fantastic.....

  3. I snuck out of the dormitory of a Roman Catholic seminary to watch this marvel on a TV in the library. Little wonder I didn't last very long in that place...




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