May 24, 1956
It was a memorable moment in Eurovision History: On a Thursday evening, almost closed to the public – television sets were almost nonexistent in European homes – in the small Teatro Kursaal in Lugano, the biggest music competition and one of the biggest media events in the world was born.
In 1955 the officials of the young, just recently founded (1950) European Broadcasting Union were discussing the idea of an event promoting international understanding in order to try out the possibilities oft he new medium television and to promote and popularize the EBU. Two alternatives were discussed: A circus festival (as the famous Monte Carlo one) and a music competition following the example of the popular Italian San-Remo Festival.
Millions of Eurovision fans can be happy today that the majority of broadcasting officials was more into music than acrobatics!
On May 24, 1956 artists from seven countries, apart from the host country Switzerland these included Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, gathered in Lugarno. It comes as no surprise that these countries (except for ever neutral Switzerland) would also sign the Treaties of Rome one year later, thus becoming the founding nations of today’s European Union.
The first Eurovision Song Contest (originally called Gran Primo Eurovisione della Canzone Europea 1956) had (inevitably) many firsts but also many lasts: The host of the evening was Lohengrin Filipello, who to this day is the only single male host in Eurovision history. It is also the only year, in which each country’s jury could vote for their own country and the only Eurovision without a second or a last place (or any place for that matter) – Apart from the winner, the placings were never announced – the assessment forms were destroyed immediately.
Some of the rules may seem odd to us today: Only soloists were allowed to compete (11 women and 3 men, probably a good choice as jurors prefered female voices throughout Eurovision history) and dance moves were not allowed (imagine that in today’s Eurovision). Furthermore, every country was allowed to enter two songs into the competition (7 songs would not have been enough to fill an evening)
The songs were all pretty much what we would call “chanson”, some faster, some more solemn. What today is English, back then was French: the dominating language. There were no rules on which language to use in the song, but all countries sent entries in their national language nevertheless. Half of the entries were thus performed in French. Popular music styled oft he time, such as Rock’n’Roll did not even come near the contest – A fact that would continue until the late 2000s.
Luxembourg sent Michèle Arnaud to perform both their entries, probably due to financial problems oft he national broadcaster. Her melodic (compared to the others) song “Ne crois pas” for many Eurovision fans is a favourite of the year. Luxembourg also did not sent their own jurors for similar reasons and asked Switzerland to take over it’s voting rights. Combined with the rule mentioned above that countries could vote for their own entries Lys Assia’s historic victory loses a bit of its grandeur…
Assia was one of the biggest stars in Switzerland at the time and had had international success with her song “Oh, mein Papa” (Oh my daddy). She sang both entries for Switzerland, one in German and one in French. The victory of her French “Refrain” started a domination of Francophone entries and countries that would last for an entire decade (maybe longer)
Germany accounted for over 60 per cent oft the male artists – sending Freddy Quinn and Walter Andreas Schwarz. Quinn presented his song “So geht das jede Nacht” (It’s Like This Every Night), a modern and energetic boogie-woogie that was quite different from the other German entry (and all other entries for that matter) „Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück“ (In the Waiting Room for Big Happiness). The song appealed with several changes in rhythm and complicated, poetic lyrics. For parts of the song Schwarz talks more than he sings (nowadays we call that rap..) Rumor has it that Freddy Quinn actually came second and was only points behind Lys Assia, but no proofs for that have survived (despite fans efforts to reach jurors – Most of them didn’t even remember the entries)
The Netherlands had the honor (that was probably not as prestigious back then) to perform the first entry of a Eurovision Song Contest ever: Jetty Paerl with her “De vogels van Holland” (The Birds of Holland). The other Dutch entrant was no other than Corry Broken, who played several distinct roles in her impressive Eurovision career that would follow her first appearance: She participated 3 times, won once (1957), hosted the contest in 1976 and announced the Dutch points in 1997.
When Lys Assia was asked to perform her winning song again at the end of the broadcast, she was so overwhelmed that her voice cracked. Assia is still proud to be the first winner of the contest and told Jan Feddersen “I wore a real piece of jewelry on stage”, the venue she describes as a “cowshed”, though.
Unfortunately except for Lys Assia’s winning performance, no video material has survived. You can listen to the entire contest though:
Here is the full scoreboard:
|*||Switzerland||Lys Assia||Das alte Karussel|
|.||Belgium||Fud Leclerc||Messieurs les noyés de la Seine|
|Belgium||Mony Marc||Le plus beau jour de ma vie|
|France||Mathé Altéry||Le temps perdu|
|France||Dany Dauberson||Il est là|
|Germany||Walter Andreas Schwarz .||Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück .
|Germany||Freddy Quinn||So geht das jede Nacht|
|Italy||Franca Raimondi||Aprite le finestre|
|Italy||Tonina Torrielli||Amani se vuoi|
|Luxembourg||Michèle Arnaud||Ne crois pas|
|Luxembourg||Michèle Arnaud||Les amants de minuit|
|Netherlands||Jetty Paerl||De vogels van Holland|
|Netherlands||Corry Brokken||Voor goed voorbij|
* the points and placings were not revealed
Sources= Klaus Berg (ogae.de – ESC Geschichte(n) ), Wunder gibt es immer wieder – Jan Feddersen.