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60 Years Ago, 'Rock Around The Clock' Made History In Connecticut

AP Photo

60 years ago, Bill Haley and His Comets performed their #1 hit, “Rock Around the Clock,” on Ed Sullivan’s CBS variety show. They performed at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut.

It was August 7, 1955. Rock historian Jim Dawson says that night was very likely the first time a rock and roll performance appeared on live TV.

“That was the herald that something new was happening. If Elvis was the King, Bill Haley was John the Baptist,” he said.

Ed Sullivan would go on to host Elvis’s first TV performance, as well as the first American performance of the Beatles. On the day Bill Haley and his band played the Shakespeare Theatre, the song was #1 on the charts. Dawson says what really made it special was the way they performed it live.

“You know, the song itself is sort of a weak recycling of these old blues that go back to the 1920s, like, 'oh, I looked at the clock and the clock struck one, I said, ooo-wee baby, we had fun.' If you just look at it on a sheet, there’s really not much there, but Bill Haley and His Comets just made something spectacular.”

They weren’t the only act on the bill that night in 1955.

“I even have a list here of people who were on the Ed Sullivan show that night... I know Roddy McDowell, Christopher Plummer, Jerry Stiller, Jack Palance…,” said Casimir Mizera, a Stratford resident who’s studied the history of the theatre. The theatre had been open for less than a month when Ed Sullivan hosted his show there.

“The mere fact that somebody had the pull to get him here, that’s unbelievable," Mizera said. "To get Ed Sullivan to show up -- he’s not doing it in New York, he’s not doing it in Vegas, he’s not coming to you from Miami. He’s coming to you from Stratford, Connecticut.”

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.