The 1950s were a great time for music. It was the first decade of rock and roll, there were some really catchy tunes, and the artists had more creative freedom than ever before. But who were the famous musicians in the 1950s?
Elvis Presley is undoubtedly one of the most iconic artists of the 1950s. With his commanding voice and groovy dance moves, he truly paved the way for rock & roll. But Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Frank Sinatra were also incredibly famous at the time as well.
Apart from them, there were also other musicians from the 1950s who created a huge impact and influence on the artists of varying genres that came after them.
Let’s learn more about them!
1. Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley was an American singer, songwriter, and actor.
Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as “the King” or “the King of Rock and Roll.” He popularized the song “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
Elvis is known for his musical innovations during this period—such as his famous hip-thrusting dance moves—and also for being one of the first musicians to make effective use of television before it was widespread in American households.
2. Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole was an African-American musician and singer-songwriter. He was one of the first black performers to gain widespread crossover success in popular music and jazz.
He is best known for his soft baritone voice, which he developed during a childhood singing career as a member of his family’s gospel group, The King Cole Trio.
Over his career, he recorded over 100 songs in his repertoire. He sang the famous song “Mona Lisa.”
He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990 and the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame inductee in 2020.
3. Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald, born in 1917, is one of the most celebrated jazz singers in the music industry.
She is known for her scat singing style and has won 13 Grammy awards.
She worked with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, and many others throughout her career.
She is called “The Queen of Jazz” and sold more than 40 million solo albums during her career.
4. Bill Haley
Bill Haley was one of the first true rock and roll stars. Born in 1925, he first gained fame with his song “Rock Around the Clock.”
He later added “Shake, Rattle and Roll” to his repertoire. His band, The Comets, performed with him on many records and toured widely throughout the 1950s.
Bill Haley is considered an influential icon in music history, though he never reached superstar status thanks to his reluctance to play outside of his comfort zone.
5. Patti Page
Patti Page was a singer, dancer, and musical actress. She is one of the best-selling female artists of all time, having sold over 100 million records worldwide.
She started singing in clubs when she was 15 years old and went on to become one of the most popular singers in country music history, especially among white audiences.
She made her debut with Mercury Records, where she recorded several hits, including “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?”, “Tennessee Waltz”, “Old Cape Cod”, and many more.
6. Bobby Darin
Bobby Darin, born in 1936, was a singer, songwriter, and actor who is best known for his immense versatility.
He had his first biggest hit with “Splish Splash,” released in 1958; it’s still considered one of the all-time great rock ‘n’ roll tracks.
Darwin had an incredibly wide range and played with lots of different styles—from country to jazz to pop—which earned him the nickname “The Triangle Man” because he could play three instruments at once (guitar, piano, and drums).
7. Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte is a talented singer whose work has been celebrated for years.
He’s known for his distinctive voice and style of music, which is influenced by both jazz and calypso.
In 1956, Harry released his first studio album titled Calypso. This album sold over a million copies worldwide and helped launch his career as an internationally acclaimed artist.
8. Pat Boone
Pat Boone was a pop singer and actor who had a number of hits in the 1950s.
He was popular with teenagers, but also recorded some rockabilly songs and even sang a few covers of country music songs. His song “Moody River” hit number one on both the pop and country billboard charts in 1956.
Boone was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2003.
9. Dean Martin
Dean Martin was born in Steubenville, Ohio, and grew up there.
He began his career as a singer in an Ohio nightclub, where he joined the Ted Weems Orchestra.
He then started a solo career, recording over 30 albums and more than 100 songs.
He was regarded as the King of Cool for his style of singing and acting. His popular songs include “You Belong To Me”, “That’s Amore”, and “Powder Your Face With Sunshine”.
10. Ray Charles
Ray Charles was an American singer-songwriter, musician, and composer.
He was known for his eclectic mix of rhythm and blues, gospel, and country music. Ray Charles had a richly textured voice that he put to good use on hits like “Georgia on My Mind”, “Hit the Road Jack”, “Unchain My Heart”, and “I Can’t Stop Loving You”.
Among many others, Ray Charles is renowned as one of the greatest pianists in history.
He became blind at age 7, but this did not stop him from pursuing his dream of becoming a musician.
11. Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra was an American singer, actor, and producer who was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century.
Known for his distinctive phrasing and vocal range, he is one of the most celebrated male recording artists in history.
In 1955 while performing at New York’s Copacabana nightclub, he became part of what would later be called “The Rat Pack” with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
His most notable album is The Wee Small Hours (1955) which won Album Of The Year at the 1956 Grammy Awards.
12. Little Richard
Little Richard, a.k.a. “The Architect of Rock and Roll”, kicked off the genre with his unique vocal musical style and explosive stage performances.
He is considered one of the most dynamic performers in music history, and fellow musicians have cited him as an influence on their own careers.
Little Richard started his musical career as a gospel singer before being discovered by Specialty Records founder Art Rupe in 1951 at age 19.
After signing to Specialty Records, he changed his name to Little Richard and recorded his first hit single, “Tutti Frutti”, which reached #1 on Billboard’s Pop Chart for seven weeks running!
13. Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly was a singer, songwriter, and musician who rose to fame in the 1950s with his unique style of rock and roll music.
Holly’s music was influenced by country, R&B, and rock and roll during this time period. He began singing as a child but didn’t start playing guitar until he was 14 years old.
Holly became known for his high tenor voice which gave him an edge over other performers who had lower vocal ranges, such as Elvis Presley.
14. Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke was a singer, songwriter, and activist.
He was also known as the “King of Soul” for his powerful singing voice. He grew up singing gospel music with his family group, the Soul Stirrers.
Sam’s first solo hit, “You Send Me”, reached number 1 on both pop and R&B charts in 1957.
His next big hit, “Chain Gang” came out in 1960 and helped make him one of the biggest artists at Atlantic Records at that time. His song “Change is Gonna Come” also became wildly popular during the civil rights movement.
15. Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and pianist.
Widely known as one of the pioneers of rock and roll music, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
He is often referred to as “The Killer” of the music scene.
Lewis recorded 30 songs that made it to the popular music charts, with 14 reaching #1.
16. James Brown
James Brown was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, bandleader, and record producer.
Starting out his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia, he is considered one of the most influential figures in 20th-century R&B and funk music.
He was known as the “Godfather of Soul”, and is often considered one of the most influential figures during that period. In 2004 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a performer.
17. Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett was born in 1926 and is known as one of the most recognizable names in popular music.
During his seven-decade career, he has recorded jazz standards, pop songs, and show tunes.
His signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, has become a classic love song that’s been covered by dozens of artists over the years.
He went on to release over 200 albums throughout his career—including duets with artists like Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin—and performed at venues all over the world.
18. Big Joe Turner
Big Joe Turner is an American rhythm and blues singer, songwriter, and pianist.
He is best known for his song “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, which has been covered by many artists, including Bill Haley & His Comets, who had a #1 hit with it in 1954.
When he was 12 years old, he started playing guitar after seeing Louis Armstrong play one when he came to town during World War I’s War Bonds Tour (1918).
The R&B charts ranked his song “Chains of Love” #5 at the end of 1951.
19. Hank Williams
Hank Williams was born in Alabama on September 17, 1923.
He is known as the “Hillbilly Shakespeare” because of his prolific songwriting ability and his impact on country music. He played many instruments, including guitar, piano, and harmonica.
Many fans also consider him to be the “Father of Country Music” due to his influence on later generations of artists, including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
20. Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash is one of the most influential singers in American history.
His music has influenced many artists, including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, he was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
He first started his career as a popular performer with Sun Records, a record label based out of Memphis, TN. During this time period, he recorded such hits as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk The Line.”
21. Fats Domino
Fats Domino was born Antoine Domino Jr. in New Orleans in 1928.
He developed a passion for music as a child, playing in neighborhood bands and singing at church socials.
In 1949, he signed with Imperial Records and recorded “The Fat Man”, which became his nickname and would become the title of one of his most famous songs.
22. Perry Como
Perry Como was an American singer, actor, and television personality.
Como is one of the most popular singers of the 20th century. His weekly TV shows were broadcast in more than 60 countries.
A recipient of both a Grammy Award and a Tony Award for his work in musical theater, Como also received three Emmys from 1955 to 1957. He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6672 Hollywood Boulevard.
23. Rosemary Clooney
Rosemary Clooney is a singer, actress, and TV personality.
She was a big star in the 1950s with hits like “Come On-A My House”, “Mambo Italiano”, and especially “This Ole House”.
In addition to her singing and acting careers, Rosemary Clooney was also a TV personality. She hosted her own variety show for three years, The Rosemary Clooney Show.
24. Gene Vincent
Gene Vincent was one of the biggest names in rockabilly, a style of music that combined elements of country, blues, and rhythm and blues.
He was born in 1935 and had his first hit with Be-Bop-A-Lula in 1956.
In 1957, he released one of his best-known songs, “Bluejean Bop”. It is said to be one of the first songs ever recorded with distortion on an electric guitar.
25. Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 1901.
He was a jazz trumpeter and singer widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.
His style of playing trumpet was unique, and he made it his own by combining traditional New Orleans brass band music with blues, ragtime, and vaudeville.
His great ability to improvise made him an excellent accompanist for singers too. Ella Fitzgerald called him “the best side man in history”.
26. Carl Perkins
Carl Perkins was an early rock and roll artist who helped to define the genre with his country-tinged style. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
When Perkins’ two sisters started singing as backup singers for local shows around Tiptonville, Carl got a taste for performing onstage himself.
After seeing Elvis Presley perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, he knew that he wanted nothing more than to be just like him.
27. Connie Francis
Connie Francis was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero.
She is an American singer, actress, and television personality who had her heyday in the 1950s and 1960s.
She had a No. 1 hit in the UK with “Who’s Sorry Now?”, her only UK chart-topper. Though she was primarily known for pop music, she also sang show tunes and Italian favorites during a successful career that lasted for more than 50 years.
28. Doris Day
Doris Day was a singer and actress who was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922.
She is best known for her recordings of the 1950s and 1960s.
Day began her career as a big band singer before transitioning to roles in musical films during the 1940s, earning several awards for her acting as well as popular acclaim with audience members.
She introduced “Secret Love” and “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)” as the best song winners in the Academy Awards.
29. Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington was an American singer and pianist.
She had a distinctive, smoky voice that was a major influence on singers like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.
Her powerful vocals were most often associated with jazz music, but she also sang pop standards and blues ballads. Washington began her career as a classical pianist and later turned to jazz.
30. Bo Diddley
Bo Diddley was a guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He became a major influence on the development of rock and roll in the 1950s.
His unique style of playing the guitar included his signature “Bo Diddley” beat (named after him). He was also applauded for his live recordings.
He also developed the use of distortion by overdriving the amp with his guitar or even hitting it with a hammer to make it sound louder than usual.
His distinctive singing style included his use of falsetto high notes matched with masculine low notes--a combination that has been imitated by many artists since then.
31. Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington is one of the most famous jazz composers and pianists in history. By his early 20s had already been composing music for several years.
He assembled his first orchestra, which would go on to become one of the greatest American big bands ever formed.
Ellington’s contributions to jazz as a composer were far-reaching; he helped shape both its foundation and its future direction with works like “Mood Indigo”, “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”, and “Take The ‘A’ Train”.
32. Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline was a country music singer and songwriter. She is best known for her powerful voice and her role as one of the most influential singers in country music history.
Patsy Cline’s signature songs include “Crazy”, “I Fall to Pieces”, and “She’s Got You”.
Her death at age 30 in a plane crash prompted great public grief, making her one of the most popular and celebrated cultural icons of the early 1960s.
33. Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters was born in Mississippi. He earned the nickname “Muddy” for his love of the muddy Mississippi River.
In 1951, Muddy Waters signed with Chess Records and released several successful songs, including “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Rollin’ Stone.”
His music incorporated elements from folk traditions like country blues and gospel music along with rock music influences such as rhythm & blues. He’s regarded as one of the best blues musicians of all time!
If you’re interested in learning more about the blues, I compiled the best blues musicians in the industry in a recent article I wrote. Check it out!
34. Frankie Lymon
Frankie Lymon was a member of The Teenagers, one of the first groups to produce rock songs.
They were also the first group to record “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, which went to number 1 on both the pop charts and rhythm & blues charts in 1956.
He’s regarded as a pioneer of rock & roll, even though he struggled with drug addiction for most of his adult life. His death occurred just before what would have been his greatest success as a solo artist after leaving Motown Records.
35. Dinah Shore
Dinah Shore was an American singer, actress, and television personality. She was the first woman to host her own variety show.
She is known for her simple style and versatility as a singer. She began singing on the radio in 1930 at age 14 and soon became popular with audiences across the country.
In 1946 she won the first Grammy Award presented for Best Female Vocal Performance for “Sentimental Journey.”
36. Otis Redding
Otis Redding was an American singer, songwriter, record producer, arranger, and talent scout.
He is considered one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music and a seminal artist in soul music and rhythm and blues.
Redding wrote such classics as “Pain in My Heart” and “The Dock of the Bay.” He became interested in music after seeing Ray Charles on television.
37. John Lennon
John Lennon was a singer-songwriter, musician, and activist who co-founded the Beatles.
Lennon is one of the most influential and iconic figures in popular music history. He is also one of the best male vocalists ever.
Lennon’s family moved to Scotland in 1945 when he was 5 years old. When Lennon returned to Liverpool at age 7, he met Paul McCartney for the first time. And the rest, as they say, is history.
38. Paul Anka
Paul Anka is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and actor.
He was one of the first teen idols and had many hits in the 1950s and 1960s. Paul Anka’s number 1 hit, “Diana”, was recorded in 1957 by Paul Anka for his album Diana: Songs Of Love And Romance (1957).
The song was written by Paul Anka and released as a single in 1958. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remained there for three weeks, becoming Anka’s first US number-one hit.
39. Etta James
Etta James was born in Los Angeles, California. She is the daughter of a minister and gospel singer.
James began singing in church choirs from an early age. In her teens, she worked as a hospital orderly during World War II.
In 1954, James joined Johnny Otis’ band The Peaches on tour through Canada and Europe—a trip that lasted until 1956 when they parted ways due to artistic differences between Otis and Etta’s husband Artie Mills.
40. Miles Davis
Miles Davis was an American jazz musician and composer.
His style of playing changed the course of music history, influencing many other artists to adapt his style to their own music.
Miles Davis was a part of many different genres of music, including jazz fusion, bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, and post-bop.
Miles Davis was a very important figure in jazz history because he had such an impact on how future generations would play it.
41. Ike Turner
Ike Turner was a musician and songwriter.
He is best known as the founder of The Kings of Rhythm, a rock and roll band that recorded many hits in the 1950s.
The group’s biggest hit was “Rocket 88”, which has been called “one of the most important records in early rock and roll history”.
Turner also established himself as a solo artist with his own hits such as “A Fool In Love”, “Come Back Baby”, and “Shake, Rattle & Roll”.
These are just a few of the many great artists and singers who made it big in the 1950s. As you can see, these artists had a huge influence on music today and will continue to do so.
The fact that they continue to be remembered by people all over the world is proof enough that they were truly talented individuals who will always be loved by those who appreciate their work.
There were many other artists who had an impact on the music industry from 1950-1959, but these are my favorites. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about them as much as I have!