Step by step, song by song, the Eurovision Song Contest has reached the year of its 60th edition. Maybe a few thought that it could make it this far in time, but very few, not to say nobody, imagined that it would get to the position it holds now.
It remains the yearly television music competition that it was at its inception; it is a phenomenon that pulls throngs of fans to the venue where it takes place and which gathers millions of people around their TV sets. For such a special occasion, ESCToday.com will publish a series of articles summarizing the history of Europe’s favorite show. But first let’s take a look at Eurovision as a whole…
In the wake of the 50s Europe was still recovering form the deep wounds that the two World Wars had inflicted to the continent. The trauma was recent but the efforts for the reconstruction and to keep such a tragedy from happening again were intense and directed towards bringing all the countries together into common interests and goals. It was from this context that stem the European Institutions.
A cultural approach to this idea of bringing the European Countries together would be embodied by the creation on 12 February 1950 in Torquay (United Kingdom) of the European broadcasting union (EBU), called in French Union Européenne de radio-télévision (UER). EBU (unrelated to the European Union) was born as an alliance of 23 broadcasting organizations from Europe and the Mediterranean for cooperation on the production and broadcasting of television and radio.
The first common project of EBU was the transmission of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II from London on 2 June 1953. In 1954 the FIFA World Cup was broadcast though the EBU’s international broadcasting cooperation system, Eurovision.
The young organization was then charged in 1954 to come up with more ideas for joint-broadcasting .
It was the Italian members (probably inspired by the Italian Festivale della canzone italiana di San Remo) who brought the suggestion of a Grand Prix of European Songs. This proposal developed into the creation of a television show that was intended and designed to stimulate the output of original, high quality songs in the field of popular music by encouraging competition between authors and composers through the international comparison of their works. This, as it reads, is the stated objective of the Eurovision Song Contest, which was officially created in the EBU General Assembly celebrated in Rome on 19 October 1955.
With Marcel Besançon, Director General of the Swiss broadcaster, behind it, the 1st Eurovision Song Contest (Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne), was hosted in Lugano, Switzerland with 7 countries participating.
Six decades have passed since those first steps. From seven countries, the Eurovision Song Contest has grown up to having around forty countries contending for the victory in a competition that is broadcast not only in the countries that send artists, but also in countries that do not have the possibility to participate, such as Australia (where it is hugely successful) and last year even China.
The Eurovision Song Contest has changed, evolved and specially grown a lot. It has gone form the tiny Teatro Kursaal of Lugano and in the gigantic B&W Hallerne in Copenhagen, with venues such as stadiums and auditoriums in between. It has seen countless singers, dancers, authors, conductors and followers. It saw the young years of artists that have become international idols such as ABBA, Julio Iglesias and Céline Dion. And it has also been honored with the participations of acclaimed singers such as Boney Tyler, Umberto Tozzi or Paloma San Basilio. Many languages have been heard and continue to be heard, despite the preferential position of English for lyrics that we can see lately. It has passed from black and white to color and to high definition, and from the vinyl, the music and video tapes to the CDs and the DVDs.
The Eurovision Song Contest is still alive despite the criticism it receives from its opposers, many of whom wonder how it is that the show continues to exist. Actually, many will be wondering how is it that it does not retire despite its age… Well, the legions of fans, who will fight back the criticism, is one of the reasons. Old fans, who have grown up to the tunes of Johnny Logan, Azúcar Moreno or Brotherhood of man, and new ones, who start being passionate about Eurovision with the newest songs or even with some of the classics. Old and new fans, they all feel the Eurovision experience as an important part of their lives. And quite a few (like this editor) cannot explain why. But that is the most beautiful part of it: not being able to explain it, and not having the need to explain it.
Given the audience figures and the effort put in place by broadcasters and artists into the Eurovision Song Contest, it is unlikely that the show is going to stop being produced. On the contrary, it looks more like the event, in its 60th birthday, is ready for yet 60 more years and then 60 again.
As we celebrate this anniversary and get ready for an exciting future, join us next week in the look back to the History of the Eurovision Song Contest.