The late Elvis Presley did many things that saw him rise to become ‘The King of Rock and Roll’. From his musical exploits to Hollywood flourishes, the man had such a cultural effect that he is even credited with bringing black and white America closer through the power of his music. One of the definitive game-changers of the rock ‘n’ roll period, alongside the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Gene Vincent, Presley had a significant hand in helping the world break off from the chains of the past with his mark still ubiquitous today, almost half a century after his passing.
Elvis’ career is credited with taking off thanks to his trio of appearances on the day’s most vital variety programme, The Ed Sullivan Show. The first came on September 9th, 1956, and is hailed as one of the most noteworthy moments in Presley’s rise. However, the host was sidelined by a near-fatal car accident and was replaced by actor Charles Laughton for the episode. Famously, when introducing ‘Hound Dog’, the Mississippian musician said: “As a great philosopher once said…’You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!”
While Presley’s debut performance was well-received, his second appearance was more important. At the time, rock and roll was public enemy number one, with opposition growing for supposedly leading America’s youth astray. Naturally, as Elvis was the biggest star in the country at the time, he became a target of this indignation. After performing ‘Hound Dog’ on October 28th, 1956, angry crowds in St. Louis and Nashville responded by burning effigies of the singer.
Additionally, Elvis was widely denounced by the conservative press. However, in a tale indicative of rock and roll’s position as an antiestablishment force, the ratings of the broadcast were higher than the previous one. Elvis’ support among American teenagers and young people had sky-rocketed higher than ever before as he cemented his position as an icon.
Although Elvis was firmly in the crosshairs of conservative America following his second Ed Sullivan performance, he would still make a third appearance. However, due to the provocative nature of his dance moves and gyrating hips, this time, the censors at CBS ruled that he be shot from the waist up. Playing favourites, ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘Too Much’, and ‘Peace in the Valley’ proved to be a marvellous way to bow out from his early days and enter the next chapter of his career.
Following the performance, Sullivan, who was initially against the idea of platforming Presley, had some kind words. Rejecting how Presley was portrayed in the media, he said: “I wanted to say to Elvis Presley and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy, and wherever you go, Elvis, we want to say we’ve never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you. So now let’s have a tremendous hand for a very nice person!”
Elvis, who was clearly elated with the support of Sullivan considering the backlash he was facing, bowed and walked off the set for the final time. While he only appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on three occasions, it set Elvis up to have a future more bright than anyone could have imagined.