29 January 1959

The first Melodifestivalen is held in Stockholm, Sweden.

With seven nations competing, the first Eurovision Song Contest took place in Lugano, Switzerland in May 1956. Sweden’s first contest was the third, in 1958. Without broadcasting a selection, Sveriges Radio chose to send Alice Babs to the contest in Hilversum. The song selected was “Samma stjärna lyser för oss två”, later renamed “Lilla stjärna”. It finished fourth at Eurovision on 12 March 1958.

The first Melodifestival, incorporated into the Säg det med musik radio series, took place on 29 January 1959 at Cirkus in Stockholm; eight songs participated. Four “expert” juries in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Luleå decided the winner. The competition was won by Siw Malmkvist performing “Augustin”, but SR decided that the winning song—regardless of its original performer—would be performed by Brita Borg at Eurovision. This policy, of selecting the artist for Eurovision internally and having other artists perform potential Swedish entries at Melodifestivalen, was stopped in 1961. The competition became a stand-alone television programme in 1960, known as the Eurovisionschlagern, svensk final. In the event’s early years, it was broadcast to Norway and Denmark through the Nordvision network. The competition adopted its current name, Melodifestivalen, in 1967.

The Melodifestival has failed to be staged on three occasions. In 1964, the competition was cancelled due to an artist’s strike; Sweden did not send a song to Eurovision that year. Sweden was absent at Eurovision for a second time in 1970 because of a Nordic boycott of the voting system, which had led to a four-way tie for first place at the 1969 contest. After SR staged the 1975 contest in Stockholm, left-wing groups argued that Sweden should not spend money to win and host Eurovision again. This led to mass demonstrations against commercial music and the organisation of an anti-commercial Alternativfestivalen. Therefore, Sweden decided not to send a song to Eurovision 1976, but returned in 1977.

4 May 1959

The 1st Annual Grammy Awards are held.

On May 4, 1959, many of music’s elite—including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Gene Autry, Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini and André Previn—gathered for a black-tie dinner and awards presentation inside the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. At the same time, other new Academy members were gathering at a function held simultaneously in New York City. “The GRAMMY Awards were a formal event from the beginning and very much in keeping with the times,” says Christine Farnon, who was instrumental in organizing the first show and would go on to become The Academy’s Executive Vice President. “As I recall, no one objected to dressing black-tie back then, though like so much else, that would change eventually.”

But this GRAMMY night, and several to follow, was held in hotel ballrooms on both coasts. The Los Angeles event was emceed by popular political comedian Mort Sahl and featured a musical sketch titled “How South Was My Pacific.” The night was by numerous accounts a significant success. Billboard—then actually still called The Billboard—ran its account of the first night of Music’s Biggest Night with a headline declaring that “Academy Smoothly Moves Into Orbit: First Awards Well-Organized Affair As Top Stars Go On Parade.” The trade magazine even favorably compared the GRAMMY’s debut to the far more established Oscars and Emmys: “It sharply contrasted similar affairs staged by the two older entertainment academies in its precision-like pace in handling the presentations.”

As well organized as the night may have been, from the very start at the GRAMMYs, there would be surprises on GRAMMY night. While Sinatra led all nominees with a grand total of six nominations, he would not turn out to be the night’s biggest winner. Rather the very first Record of the Year and Song of the Year awards both went to “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” by Domenico Modugno, while Album of the Year went to The Music from Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini.

22 February 1959

Lee Petty wins the very first Daytona 500.

On this day in 1959, Lee Petty defeats Johnny Beauchamp in a photo finish at the just-opened Daytona International Speedway in Florida to win the first-ever Daytona 500. The race was so close that Beauchamp was initially named the winner by William France, the owner of the track and head of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). However, Petty, who was driving a hardtop Oldsmobile 88, challenged the results and three days later, with the assistance of news photographs, he was officially named the champ. There was speculation that France declared Beauchamp the winner in order to intentionally stir up controversy and generate publicity for his new race track.

Today, the 200-lap, 500-mile Daytona 500 is one of auto racing’s premiere events and the first race of the NASCAR season. France, a gas station owner and racing promoter, officially co-founded NASCAR in Daytona Beach in 1948. The following year, Lee Petty, a mechanic from North Carolina, began his racing career at the age of 35. He went on to win more than 50 races on NASCAR’s Grand National circuit and three championships before being seriously injured in a crash during a qualifying event at Daytona in 1961. Following the crash, Petty drove in a handful of races before retiring from competition in 1964. He went on to found Petty Enterprises, which became NASCAR’s oldest and most successful racing team. In January 2009, Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and became Richard Petty Motorsports.