15 Of The Greatest And Most Famous British Singers Of The 1950s 

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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In the 1950s in Britain, music was taking a major turn. American singers primarily dominated the charts, and the emergence of American rock and roll in the mid-1950s had a lasting development on the subsequent British Invasion of the 60s.

However, there were still plenty of famous British singers in the 1950s. Both jazz and folk music were experiencing a revival that ended up influencing decades of British music to come, and the pop charts saw artists that are still popular today. 

1. Frankie Vaughan

Also known as Mr. Moonlight from his song “Give Me The Moonlight, Give Me the Girl,” Frankie Vaughn was the king of easy listening.

Vaughn was born in Liverpool in 1928 and later attended the Lancaster College of Art, though, at one point in time, Vaughn wanted to be a boxer. His first television appearance was in 1951.

He eventually found great success in covering hits from the United States, including the songs “Kewpie Doll,” ”The Garden of Eden,” and “The Green Door.”

Vaughan was known for his signature crooning style and his theatricality on stage. Vaughan briefly pivoted to acting in the 1960 film Let’s Make Love with co-star Marilyn Monroe and continued to perform until he died in 199.

2. Tommy Steele

Sir Thomas Hicks, also known as Tommy Steele, was the first true teen idol and one of the best all-time rock and rollers from Britain.

The London native had always wanted to be a performer but didn’t believe that stars could be English – however, he proved that wrong!

Hicks began singing in coffee shops in Soho. He would eventually be discovered at one of those coffee shops and went on to front Tommy Steele and the Steelman.

The ground found success covering American Records and releasing them before the original could hit the UK, a tactic done with the songs “Singing the Blues” and “Knee Deep in Blues.”

Since his sudden rise in the 1950s, Hicks has taken on a variety of interests. He wrote a book about Work War Two and wrote a children’s Christmas book, he has become a respected sculptor, and he has both directed and starred in various musicals ranging, the latest being in 2008.

3. David Whitfield

Born in Hull, it should come as no surprise that David Whitfield grew up singing in the choir at his church and entertaining his fellow Royal Navy members during World War Two.

He was the winner of “Opportunity Knocks,” a talent radio show that set the standards for the still popular format seen with shows like X-Factor. He later appeared on the all-winners show and briefly joined the Opportunity Knocks touring show.

After the Navy, he had a job in a cementing factory but was asked to instead sing in a cabaret, which eventually led to a variety stage tour.

Eventually, he became the first British male to earn a gold disc with his biggest hit, “Cara Mia.” The song spent ten weeks in pole position in the UK and toured until his death at the age of 54.

4. Lita Roza

Lita Roza, a Liverpool native, had music in her blood – she was the daughter of a Filipino accordionist and pianist that played in nightclubs around town.

Her career began at the age of 12 when she auditioned as a dancer, and by the time she was 16, she became a singer at a “New Yorker” club. 

She got married when she was 18 and moved to the US for several years before returning to Britain. In 1950, she became the lead singer with the Ted Health Band.

A few years later, her cover of “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” became her only number-one single. This made Roza the first British woman to have a number one hit on the UK charts.

5. Emile Ford

Although he was born in the West Indies, Ford moved to London with his family in the 50s to explore the improved sound reproduction technology. He then found fame at the later end of the decade after winning the Soho Fair talent contest.

His song, “What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?” was number one for six weeks, and with this song, Ford became the first Black British artist to sell a million copies of a single.

Ford experienced synaesthesia, where certain colors are associated with sounds. He believed this fight helped him make the recordings he did.

Other than his music, he is best known for his work as a sound engineer, creating the basis for the technology used in karaoke.

6. Shirley Bassey

This Welsh singer was born in Cardiff, and in 1959, she became the first Welsh person to get a number one single on the UK charts with the song “As I Love You”. 

Dame Shirley Bassey went on to have a long and illustrious career, well known for recording the themes songs for three James Bond films, including the famous “Diamonds Are Forever.”

In addition, she has performed for Queen Elizabeth II several times and received dozens of honors for her work. 

Bassey is still actively making music, and her song “Goldfinger” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

7. Cliff Richard

Sir Cliff Richard is easily one of the most well-known British singers ever.

He has 67 UK top ten singles, has had a number one single for five consecutive decades, and with Elvis Presley, shares the record for the only singer to have a song on the UK singles chart in its first six decades.

His original success can in 1958 with the band The Drifters. Together, they created the album “Move It,” which John Lennon stated was the first real British rock record. Their song “Living Doll” hit number one, and the rest was history.

8. Alma Cogan

Alma Cogan was known as the “Girl with the Giggle in Her Voice”.

The highest-paid British female entertainer of her time, this London native was the daughter of a singer and named after the silent screen star Alma Taylor. 

Her first single was recorded on her 20th birthday, and shortly after, she became the vocalist for the BBC Radio program “Take It From Here” in 1953.

Her first hit was in 1954, and she ended up with 18 singles on the UK charts throughout the 1950s. 

9. Jimmy Young

Sir Leslie “Jimmy” Young was born in Gloucestershire and originally had great promise as a rugby player.

He signed to Polygon Records in 1950, and his first song was “Too Young” – however, this was before the UK record charts existed, so the ranking is unknown.

He also had a few hits covering American singles, including the songs “Unchained Melody” and “Chain Gang.” Young ultimately left the music business but achieved several accolades as the first-ever disc jockey on BBC Radio 1.

He was knighted for his services, and his last broadcast was in 2011 to celebrate his 90th birthday.

10. Ronnie Hilton

Born Adrian Hill in Yorkshire, Hilton began his career not as a singer but at an aircraft factory during World War Two.

Hill sang with local bands in his spare time and eventually found success doing cover songs of American songs throughout the 1950s.

He amassed around nine top 20 hits between 1954 and 1957 and later became the voice for BBC Radio’s Sounds of the Fifties series.

11. Dickie Valentine

Born Richard Bryce, this British singer had his first gig at three years old in the comedy Jack’s the Boy.

Growing up, he practiced impersonating famous singers, giving him the versatility other singers at the time lacked. In 1949, he became a vocalist at the Ted Health band alongside singers Lita Roza and Dennis Lotis.

His first chart-topper can in 1955, and he continued to create music and perform until he died in the 70s.

12. Lonnie Doneghan

Lonnie Doneghan is well known as the King of Skiffle, which greatly influenced British musicians that came after him.

Born in Scotland, he grew up listening to swing jazz, vocal acts, and country and blues records. These influences led him to help create Skiffle, a genre that blends blues, jazz, and American folk that has been considered a stepping stone to several musical movements that came after.

His first single hit popularity in 1956 and had the first debut record to go gold in the United Kingdom.

He went on to have several more hit songs in the 1950s and continued performing and writing songs for other singers until he died in 1975. This included the song “I’ll Never Love Again” for Tom Jones. 

Doneghan had a brief revival in popularity when his son, Peter Boegan, was a contestant on the show The Voice and sang the song with Jones.

13. Petula Clark

Born in Surrey, England, Petula Clark started singing on the radio at nine years old.

She quickly became known as a British Shirley Temple and became popular for entertaining the British Army throughout the 40s. In the 1950s, she had several major hits, helping cement her as a star.

Within her career, she also co-wrote the score for Purple Rain with Prince, fought for civil rights, performed on John Lennon’s album Give Peace a Chance, and overall has had an illustrious career. 

14. Dennis Lotus

Dennis Lotis was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was trained as a boy soprano.

He moved to Britain, where he joined the Ted Heath Orchestra in the 50s. He quickly became one of the most successful acts touring on the variety circuit at the time. He was noted especially for his many female fans at the time.

Lotis appeared in several films throughout the 50s and 60s and continues to give the occasional music performance.

15. Ewan MacColl

Ewan MacColl was a folk singer-songwriter that collected songs and worked as a labor activist. He spent his career collecting hundreds of traditional folk songs to keep them in the public lexicon.

Born to Scottish parents in England, both of who were socialists, MacColl was greatly influenced by his parent’s politics and wrote many left-wing political songs.

In the 1950s, he recorded and produced many folk albums and wrote songs that were recorded by artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and more.

He recorded the song “Scarborough Fair” in the 1950s, which was made popular by Garfunkel and Oates.

Summing Up Our List Of Famous British 1950s Singers

As you can see, there were many talented British singers that came out of the 50s and this list only scratches the surface.

Despite the dominance Americans had on the music charts of the time, these British singers held their own and influenced music for generations to come.

Were there any singers that you think we missed off? Let us know and we’ll add them in!

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.