Skip to main content

60 years ago: The first ever Eurovision Song Contest

25 May 2016 at 00:26 CEST
Lys Assia placed 8th in 1957, wearing a simple white gown on stage Unknown
A European tradition was born in Monaco, back in 1955. Consequently, the first ever Eurovision Song Contest took place in Lugano, Switzerland, at the Teatro Kursaal, on the 24th of May, 1956. That is exactly 60 years ago.

The first ever

Inspired by the Italian Sanremo Festival, the idea to organise a pan-European competition for light music was born at a meeting of the European Broadcasting Union in Monaco, back in 1955. It was decided that the first ever Eurovision Song Contest would be hosted the following year in the Swiss resort of Lugano. The 1956 Eurovision Song Contest was primarily a radio show, although some cameras were taping the contest for the few Europeans who had a television set at that time.

Lohengrin Filipello was hosting the programme, which lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes. The seven participating countries were represented with two songs each. The songs of the contest were not to exceed three and a half minutes, and the performers were accompanied by an orchestra of 24 musicians, led by Fernando Paggi.

Switzerland wins!

The winning song, as announced by the head of the jury, was Refrain, performed by Lys Assia from Switzerland. Lys Assia is the only Swiss contestant to have ever won the Eurovision Song Contest, as Switzerland's other winning song in 1988, Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi, was performed by Céline Dion, who is of Canadian origin.

Facts & figures

  • The broadcasters from Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom missed the deadline for participating in the first ever Eurovision Song Contest and only appeared one year later. Only solo artists were allowed to enter the contest. Groups were banned - a rule which would only be abolished in the 1970s.
  • All participating countries sent two jury members to Lugano in order to vote secretly on the songs. The jury members from Luxembourg could not make it to Lugano, so the EBU allowed Swiss nationals to vote on their behalf. The juries were allowed to vote for whatever country they wished to, including their own.
  • The scores of the voting have never been made public, leaving room for lots of speculation. Attempts to reconstruct the voting by interviewing jury members over the past five decades did not lead to any reliable outcome.