It’s arguable that the Ed Sullivan Variety Show did more for popular music than any other TV program. Introduced America to the Beatles, to Elvis Presley. That show gave most people their first taste of Rock n’ Roll. But it wasn’t Elvis who did it.
On this very day 60 years ago, the man they call “the originator” Bo Diddley took the stage and screen—for the first and last time. November 20, 1955. The Ed Sullivan Show was set to air live. Bo Diddley’s in the wings. He’s there to promote his namesake hit with his signature beat. Sullivan asked him to play Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song “Sixteen Tons.” But Diddley didn’t. Whether it was confusion or sheer defiance, Bo Diddley went on live TV and played his own song—also called “Bo Diddley.”
This is before Elvis, long before the Beatles. Can you imagine what happened? The crowd went wild. And Sullivan was furious. Got so mad the two of them almost came to blows back stage. Diddley said he’d bust Sullivan’s lip if he said another word…and was promptly banned from playing the Ed Sullivan show ever again. But the damage was done. America had heard that Bo Diddley beat.