The entertainment world was all shook up as the landmark TV program “American Bandstand” made its national debut on this day in history, August 5, 1957.
“American Bandstand” had been a local hit called “Bandstand” in Philadelphia since 1952, and fronted since 1956 by an ambitious young host named Dick Clark.
He famously got his chance to take over the program when its original host, Bob Horn, was fired after an arrest for drunk driving.
Clark then lobbied for a wider audience. His wish was granted on August 5, when “American Bandstand” was broadcast on 67 ABC-affiliate stations across the country.
Fans loved the show and Clark’s affable on-air personality, while he quickly proved to have fantastic eyes and ears for trends and talent.
The biggest acts of the rock ‘n’ roll era, across multiple genres, all appeared on the program: Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Beach Boys, to name a few.
Clark, the future entertainment titan, “transformed himself and a local Philadelphia television program into two of the most culturally significant forces of the early rock-and-roll era,” notes History.com.
Billy Williams performed “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter,” while The Chordettes sang “Just Between You and Me” on the national debut episode, according to IMDB.
The show was soon showcasing an astonishing list of rising-star acts from the R&B, soul and burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll genres.
Paul Anka made his national debut two days after “American Bandstand,” performing “Diana” on the program on August 7, 1957.
“From the outset he introduced the country to a parade of future Hall of Famers, including Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, Sam Cooke, the Drifters, Buddy Holly and Jackie Wilson,” reported Rolling Stone upon Clark’s death in 2012.
One Rolling Stone account claims that two-thirds of the members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made their national debut on “American Bandstand.”
The program also helped inspire nationwide dance crazes, including the Watusi, the Stroll and the Twist.
The song “The Twist” was named the biggest chart hit of all time by Billboard in 2018.
“American Bandstand” was such an immediate national success that ABC in October moved the show from its 3:30 after-school time slot targeting teenagers to a prime-time slot with wider audience potential.
The program reached as many as 20 million viewers per episode, according to entertainment sources.
Clark saw bigger things ahead, even in the early years of “American Bandstand.”
He formed Dick Clark Productions in 1957, produced and hosted the first “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” in 1972 and created the American Music Awards in 1974 to compete with the Grammy Awards, according to a timeline of the show published by CBS News.
Clark and “American Bandstand” ended their network run in 1987, after 30 years as arguably the most influential program in entertainment history.
Clark himself was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
“He curated the soundtrack of the American teenager’s life,” the Rock Hall states. “As the charismatic host of ‘American Bandstand,’ Dick Clark gave rock bands national exposure, stood up against censorship and spread the gospel of rock and roll.”
Some rock legends made their last national appearance on “American Bandstand.”
Buddy Holly performed “It’s So Easy” on the August 7, 1958, episode.
He was killed in a plane crash, along with Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson, the following February.