Evidently, another act failed to show up, and they performed live for a record-breaking 16 minutes, on arguably, the most popular American Television show of the time. This appearance led to the group being signed by Columbia records.
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performed in front of a television audience of forty million people for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show. A previously scheduled artist did not appear that night, and the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were given the newly available time slot on the show, in addition to the two songs they had initially planned to do. The televised performance and the success of the Clancys’ and Makem’s nightclub performances attracted the attention of John Hammond of Columbia Records. The group was offered a five-year contract with an advance of $100,000, a huge sum in 1961. For their first album with Columbia, A Spontaneous Performance Recording, they enlisted Pete Seeger, one of the leaders of the American Folk Revival, as backup banjo player. The record included songs that would soon become classics for the group, such as “Brennan on the Moor”, “Jug of Punch”, “Reilly’s Daughter”, “Finnegan’s Wake”, “Haul Away Joe”, “Roddy McCorley”, “Portlairge” and “The Moonshiner”. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1962. It lost to the Belafonte Folk Singers.
Around the same time that they recorded A Spontaneous Performance, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem cut their final, eponymous album with Tradition Records. By the end of 1962, they released a second album with Columbia, Hearty and Hellish! A Live Nightclub Performance, and they played an acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall. Additionally, they were making appearances on major radio and television talk-shows in America.