On This Day: Bob Dylan Walks Out of ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ Over Dispute in 1963

by Madison Miller

In 1962, Bob Dylan first introduced people to the sound of his voice and his songwriting prowess when he released his debut self-titled album.

However, his first album barely broke even. After, he legally changed his name from Robert Zimmerman to Bob Dylan and would travel to the UK, where he appeared in “Madhouse on Castle Street.” This is the first time the public would hear the song “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Soon it would become an anthem for the civil rights movement, counterculture, and anti-war momentum. The song appears on his second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” From here he slowly becomes a familiar face in a growing movement and his songs closely connect with this feeling.

Bob Dylan Garners Fame

On May 12, 1963, Dylan attracted even more attention to himself when he walked out on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

At the time, Bob Dylan was no national icon yet. His “Blowin’ in the Wind” song had attracted a big following and a lot of covers from different artists. He had a tight group of followers under a very specific umbrella but was unknown by wider audiences.

Dylan was hoping that booking “The Ed Sullivan Show” would help him gain fans.

However, his performance never happened at all.

According to History.com, Dylan walked off the set when the show rejected the song he was planning on performing due to network censors that were in place at the time. He was going to perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” It was a satirical talking blues song that addressed the John Birch Society, a very conservative and problematic group. Oddly enough, Dylan had practiced the song at the studio several days before and even performed it in front of Ed Sullivan himself.

Dylan Walks Out on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’

On the day of the performance, Bob Dylan was getting ready for dress rehearsals. An executive producer from CBS Standards and Practices department happened to hear Dylan’s song and told producers he couldn’t perform “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” on the show.

The executives apparently feared a possible defamation lawsuit from using someone’s name in the song. Dylan was asked to either choose a new song, although he had been practicing this one, or change the lyrics. As someone who would become one of music’s most influential songwriters, Dylan refused to alter his songs to match what someone else wanted.

He stormed angrily off the set. Although he didn’t appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the situation helped draw attention to him. He became an artist known for his integrity and unwavering support for what he believes in.

Others claim that, in reality, Dylan actually politely declined to be on the show. Regardless, the story was widespread news. Eventually, even Ed Sullivan would denounce the network’s decision to not let him perform his song. Not being on “The Ed Sullivan Show” did more good for Dylan than being on it ever could.

His popularity would only grow from here. By the end of the summer of 1963, Dylan was known for his performances at the March on Washington. From there the songwriter and performer would eventually earn 10 Grammy Awards and become one of the best-selling musicians ever. His work has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on American culture.