Popular music in the early 1950s was essentially a continuation of the crooner sound of the previous decade, with less emphasis on the jazz-influenced big band style and more emphasis on a conservative, operatic, symphonic style of music. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Judy Garland, Johnnie Ray, Kay Starr, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, Georgia Gibbs, Eddie Fisher, Teresa Brewer, Dinah Shore, Kitty Kallen, Joni James, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Toni Arden, June Valli, Doris Day, Arthur Godfrey, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Guy Mitchell, Nat King Cole, and vocal groups like the Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, The Four Lads, The Four Aces, The Chordettes, The Fontane Sisters, The Hilltoppers and the Ames Brothers. Jo Stafford‘s “You Belong To Me” was the #1 song of 1952 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.
The middle of the decade saw a change in the popular music landscape as classic pop was swept off the charts by rock-and-roll. Crooners such as Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, andPatti Page, who had dominated the first half of the decade, found their access to the pop charts significantly curtailed by the decade’s end. doo-wop entered the pop charts in the 1950s. Its popularity soon spawns the parody “Who Put the Bomp“.
Rock-n-roll emerged in the mid-1950s with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly,Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochran, Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, Connie Francis, Johnny Mathis, Neil Sedaka, Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson being notable exponents. In the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records. Chuck Berry, with “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), refined and developed the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, focusing on teen life and introducing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music. Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Johnny Horton, and Marty Robbins wereRockabilly musicians. Doo-wop was another popular genre at the time. Popular Doo Wop and Rock-n-Roll bands of the mid to late 1950s include The Platters, The Flamingos, The Dells, The Silhouettes, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Danny & the Juniors, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Del-Vikings and Dion and the Belmonts.
The new music differed from previous styles in that it was primarily targeted at the teenager market, which became a distinct entity for the first time in the 1950s as growing prosperity meant that young people did not have to grow up as quickly or be expected to support a family. Rock-and-roll proved to be a difficult phenomenon for older Americans to accept and there were widespread accusations of it being a communist-orchestrated scheme to corrupt the youth, although rock and roll was extremely market based and capitalistic.
Jazz stars in the 1950s who came into prominence in their genres called bebop, hard bop, cool jazz and the blues, at this time included Lester Young, Ben Webster,Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Gil Evans, Jerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderley, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Max Roach, the Miles Davis Quintet, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday.
The American folk music revival became a phenomenon in the United States in the 1950s to mid-1960s with the initial success of The Weavers who popularized the genre. Their sound, and their broad repertoire of traditional folk material and topical songs inspired other groups such as the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels, and the “collegiate folk” groups such as The Brothers Four, The Four Freshmen, The Four Preps, and The Highwaymen. All featured tight vocal harmonies and a repertoire at least initially rooted in folk music and topical songs.
On 3 February 1959, a chartered plane transporting the three American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson goes down in foggy conditions near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all four occupants on board, including pilot Roger Peterson. The tragedy is later termed “The Day the Music Died“, popularized in Don McLean‘s 1972 song “American Pie“. This event, combined with the conscription of Elvis into the US Army, is often taken to mark the point where the era of 1950s rock-and-roll ended.