#tbt: “Refrain” (1956)

As we look forward to the next edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, let's take a look back at how all the craziness began.

Switzerland's Lys Assia performs Switzerland's Lys Assia performs "Refrain" at the first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956. (Screen: YouTube)


Song Title: “Refrain”
Artist: Lys Assia
Country: Switzerland
Year: 1956

Back in the mid-1950s, the European Broadcasting Union wanted to test out the live capabilities of television and radio across Europe. Italy’s Sanremo Music Festival, which began in 1951, was instantly popular and had a format that seemed adaptable for an international audience.

This led to the first iteration of what became known as the Eurovision Song Contest. In 1956, representatives from seven countries gathered in Lugano, Switzerland to present a total of 14 songs. The first Eurovision winner was Lys Assia of Switzerland with her song “Refrain”:



This edition of the Eurovision Song Contest was like no other, and not just because it was the first edition.

Each country submitted two songs for consideration, making this the only Contest with multiple entries from a single country. Of the seven countries, Switzerland and Luxembourg were the only ones to have both of their entries performed by the same singer—Lys Assia and Michèle Arnaud, respectively.

That’s not the only thing Switzerland and Luxembourg had in common in this Contest. Each country’s delegation included two jurors who would help decide the winner. The jurors for Luxembourg were unable to attend the event, so the Swiss jurors covered for them. In other words, Switzerland had four of the 28 votes that would determine the winner.

If that seems fishy, don’t worry: it gets weirder. There was no elaborate points system in play for this version of Eurovision, just a secret ballot. Oh, and countries were allowed to vote for themselves. Although the official results have never been revealed, a vote of 4-2-2-2-2-2-0 doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. This is not to take away from Lys Assia’s victory, but it’s understandable that Eurovision got its first big overhaul the following year.

It wouldn’t be Eurovision without controversy. Unfortunately, although cameras were present for the first Eurovision Song Contest, the video above is the only visual archive of the competition.

Eurovision Song Contest 1956

1NetherlandsJetty PaerlDe vogels van Holland
2SwitzerlandLys AssiaDas alte Karussell
3BelgiumFud LeclercMessieurs les noyés de la Seine
4GermanyWalter Andreas SchwarzIm Wartesaal zum großen Glück
Mathé AltéryLe temps perdu
6LuxembourgMichèle ArnaudNe crois pas
7ItalyFranca RaimondiAprite le finestre
8NetherlandsCorry BrokkenVoorgoed voorbij
9SwitzerlandLys AssiaRefrainWinner
10BelgiumMony MarcLe plus beau jour de ma vie
11GermanyFreddy QuinnSo geht das jede Nacht
12FranceDany DaubersonIl est là
13LuxembourgMichèle ArnaudLes amants de minuit
14ItalyTonina TorrielliAmami se vuoi
The first edition of the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Lugano, Switzerland on May 24. Although there were 14 entries, only seven countries competed. Official rankings have never been released as the jury voted in secret.

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