Eurovision: An article full of Eurovision firsts

Today we would like to share some knowledge about “firsts in Eurovision”, because the contest exists since 1956, which means that the biggest music contest of the world exists for 68 years already, and because of that it has many “firsts”, like: the first singer or the first performer of colour. We can write a book about the firsts of Eurovision, but for now we will leave you to read this article with a couple of well-chosen Eurovision firsts in it. We might be able to come up with another article of Eurovision firsts, but we have to think about that…well…first.

Yesterday we posted a “Short history of the green room” of the Eurovision Song Contest, a guide to know more about one of Eurovision’s annual mainstays, the green room. The 2024 edition of the contest in Malmö (Sweden) will see a green room behind the LED screen of the stage again, which did not happen since the contest of 2012 in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.  

Read our article about the Eurovision green room by clicking here.

The first Eurovision singer ever
but also the first contest ever, the first female Eurovision singer ever, and the first female Eurovision winner ever

The first Eurovision singer ever came from the Netherlands when singer Jetty Paerl sang “De vogels van Holland” (trans. “The birds of Holland”). When Jetty entered the stage in the first contest ever in 1956 she probably did not know that she was writing European music history. Jetty’s song was written by the famous Dutch author, Annie M.G. Schmidt, and featured many different sounds of Dutch birds made by Jetty herself.

Source: Eurovision Archives YouTube channel

In the early years of the contest each country sent two singers and two songs to the contest; in 1956 Jetty Paerl was accompanied by Corry Brokken with the song “Voorgoed voorbij” (trans. “Over forever”). The year after (1957) Corry Brokken was the winner of the contest, and thus the very first Dutch winner.  

In 1956 only the winner was announced and no other songs were ranked, but we do know that the legendary Swiss Lys Assia (1924-2018) was the very first winner ever of the contest with the song “Refrain” (trans. “Chorus”), she was also the first woman to ever win the contest.

Source: Horizonte – Music YouTube channel

Most of the audience could not see Jetty Pearl or Lys Assia perform, since not many people had a TV at the time, but the contest was filmed for the small number of people who owned a TV set. In the first edition only seven countries took part, which were: Switzerland, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Germany. The Eurovision Song Contest had come to being to gather all Europeans in harmony through music (“United by Music”), especially during the aftermath of the Second World War, but also to showcase all sorts of new radio and other types of telecommunication. The contest was inspired by the Italian Sanremo Festival.

The first Asian performer in Eurovision

The first Asian performer of the Eurovision stage was the Netherlands’ Anneke Grönloh, who sang the song “Jij bent mijn leven” (trans. “You are my life”) to a 10th placing (of 13) in 1964. Anneke Grönloh came from Indonesia, but moved to the Netherlands after the Second World War ended. Now, in 2024, we cannot imagine being from a certain continent, race or sexuality is an issue to represent your country in Eurovision, but back in the 1960’s this was still a big deal, also when Anneke Grönloh was chosen by the Dutch to represent the Netherlands, which was just getting used to having people from all over in their country.

Source: ESC:56-73 YouTube channel

The first black performer in Eurovision
but also the first act that did not use a static microphone

There they are again! The Dutch! This time around they sent in the first black person ever, which was Milly Scott in 1966 with the song “Fernando en Filippo” (trans. “Fernando and Filippo”). Milly had her roots in Surinam, which was governed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands at the time. Eventually Milly Scott ended in 15th place (of 18) with her rumba-inspired song that was about two Hispanic boys that were both dating the same girl without knowing about each other.

Dutch singer Milly Scott was also the first person in Eurovision who did not make use of a static microphone, which gave her the opportunity to walk around the stage to visualize her song. Next to this, it gave her the chance to walk down and up a staircase that was on the stage of the contest of 1966.

Source: ESC:56-73 YouTube channel

The first drag performance in Eurovision ever
but also the first LGBTQIA+ winners ever

These days as good as everyone can be sent to the contest, it does not matter what their background is. When one looks at the LGBTQIA+ community most notable are two winners: Dana International in 1998 with “Diva” (Israel) and Conchita Wurst in 2014 with “Rise like a phoenix” (Austria), both performers are part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The first drag performance however was in 1986 by Jonny Nymoen, he was part of the drag group “Great Garlic Girls”, and he was a dancer during the act of Norway’s Ketil Stokkan, who performed the song “Romeo”.

Source: JUGOVIZIJA by Davor Pejic YouTube channel

The first woman directing Eurovision

In 1993 Irish Anita Notaro was the first woman ever to direct the Eurovision Song Contest, which she did in Millstreet (Ireland), a town that is to date the smallest location where Eurovision has ever been held. The population of Millstreet is quite small, currently it has 1,500 inhabitants, so in 1993 it probably had less. Nowadays it is difficult for the Eurovision organization to find an enormous arena to host the contest in, but in Millstreet the contest was held in an equestrian arena, although with 25 countries competing it had the biggest contestant roster up to that time. Before and after the contest Anita Notaro gave many interviews about the challenges she had to face with her team to organize the contest.

Source: SvenskTV YouTube channel

The first time Eurovision was cancelled

Since 1956 it never happened that the Eurovision Song Contest got cancelled, but it happened in 2020 when the contest would have been in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The cancellation was due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which did not make it possible to celebrate Eurovision like it is supposed to be. Some countries would not be able to travel to the Netherlands because of COVID-19 rules and regulations in their country, other countries did want to take the risk, some of the contestants were dealing with COVID themselves, and many more issues occurred. The Netherlands did however, together with the EBU, come up with an alternative show, “Europe Shine a Light”, which was not a contest, but did showcase all the artists that were chosen nationally to represent their country that year, next to Eurovision legends that performed from their own safe spaces.

Source: Official Eurovision Song Contest YouTube channel (EBU)

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