Each of seven nations which participated, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Italy had two songs in the very first Eurovision Song Contest. Among them, Lys Assia, already popular all over Europe.
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Lys Assia also had two songs to perform for Switzerland but it was Refrain that would become the very first winner of the Grand Prix. The song was composed by Géo Voumard (passed away in 2008) and Émile Gardaz and conducted by Fernando Paggi.
"We just tried to make something out of it, back in 1956. It was short after the war, and it was about opening doors," Assia said in 2008 when she attended the contest in Belgrade. "As long as we stick to the idea of having open frontiers, and that we have to get to know eachother, it will go on. I am sure."
No details of the voting have ever been made public. Each country was represented by two jurors, who could also vote for their own entry, and the winner was simply revealed by an announcement.
The chosen venue for what was called then Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européene 1956 was the tiny Teatro Kursaal, a big difference compared to the arenas seen in the past decade. The contest was presented by Lohengrin Filipello.
The first contest is not known to exist in any archive, although there is newsreel footage that includes part of the winning reprise by Lys Assia.
First rules of the Eurovision Song Contest
Some notes from the rules:
- It was strongly recommended that the participating songs were chosen in public national selections.
- The songs couldn't be longer than 3.5 minutes and had to be inedit.
- The performers were only required in Lugano for rehearsals on the 21st of May, four days before the gala.
- The order of appearance was drawn by lots, although each broadcaster could choose if they would contribute one or two entries and which of the entries was performed first.
- There could be more than one winning song, although there was no economic award or trophy. The winner was only awarded the GRAND PRIX title.
- Each broadcaster had to appoint two jurors of their choice to Lugano, although they had to watch the show on a TV screen, as the audience was supposed to be watching it at home. They had to mark every song from 1-10, meaning they could actually vote for their own country.
- There was no language rule, although all the entries were performed in the official languages of the countries they represented.
What happened after?
Lys since went on to take part in the contest in 1957 and 1958 before continuing a successful and long career as a singer all over the world, even performing for Queen Elizabeth II! Her last album was released as recently as 2008 and aptly called Refrain des Lebens. As a mark of her long and successful career, Lys also featured in a book about Swiss women over 80 entitled Das Volle Leben.
Lys continued to be a huge asset to the Eurovision Song Contest, having appeared at recent competitions as the guest of honour, acting as a connection between the contests of old and new.