The 1950s were dominated by the birth of rock and roll, a powerful, electrified new form of music that combined blues, pop, and hillbilly music. Older generations pushed back against what they perceived as the “devil’s music,” but young people embraced its rawness with relish.
By the end of the decade, rock and roll had spread throughout the world, making musicians like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis household names.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of 15 of the most famous male singers of the 50s. Interested? Read on!
1. Elvis Presley
Undoubtedly the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley was one of the most influential figures in pop culture in the twentieth century let alone the 1950s. His bold performances, distinctive voice, and iconic dance moves made him, to many, the absolute embodiment of rock and roll.
While Prestley’s career continued into the 1970s, it was the ’50s that produced some of his most enduring songs like “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1955, “Love Me Tender” and “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956, and “Jailhouse Rock” and “All Shook Up” in 1957, all of which were chart-topping.
With so many top hits he released throughout his life, it’s no wonder Prestley is considered one of the best-selling solo artists of all time, having sold more than 500 million records worldwide.
2. Ray Charles
Next up we have Ray Charles, who was one of the most influential and talented singers of all time.
He was known to many as the Genius, but to his friends, he preferred to go by Brother Ray. He was a pioneer of soul music and one of the first African American musicians to be granted creative control by a record company.
Charles rose to fame during the ’50s by combining elements of jazz, blues, and gospel. His distinctive look, combined with his incredible talent as a pianist and gravelly voice, made him a household name.
Many of the musicians who followed him credit him as an influence, and today’s artists still cover songs like “I’ve Got a Woman” and “Georgia On My Mind.”
3. Nat King Cole
Born Nathaniel Adams Cole, Nat King Cole was a singer, jazz pianist, actor, and composer. At 12, he began taking formal piano lessons and dropped out of high school at 15 to pursue a career in music.
By the 1950s, Cole was already famous for his performances with his King Cole Trio and for songs like “Get Your Kicks (Route 66)” and “The Christmas Song.” As a well-known film and television actor and a Broadway star, he also became the first African American to host a TV show, called The Nat King Cole Show, on NBC.
Throughout the ’50s, Cole would continue to record and release hit after hit, selling millions of records, earning him a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into several music halls of fame.
4. Frank Sinatra
Francis Albert Sinatra, known by his stage name Frank Sinatra, started as a swing artist during the big band era. He released his debut album in 1946 and, by the early 50s, had made a name for himself on the Las Vegas circuit as a member of the iconic Rat Pack.
Sinatra was not only a singer, but he had an incredibly successful film career. His successful performance in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, which landed him an Academy Award, launched his career.
The albums he released following the success of that film—notably In the Wee Small Hours and Come Fly With Me—are some of his best-known musical works.
5. Chuck Berry
The Father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry, was a pioneer of the genre. He began playing the blues in his teens, and by 1950, he was working with local bands in the clubs around St. Louis.
In 1955 he found breakout success with his recording of “Maybellene.” By 1956, his song “Roll Over Beethoven” had reached number 29 on the Billboard Top 100, and he was considered one of America’s top touring acts.
Berry’s style incorporated elements of blues and gospel with showmanship and lengthy guitar solos, codifying the elements of rock and roll that are still associated with the genre to this day.
6. Little Richard
Known as the Architect of Rock and Roll, Little Richard, born Richard Wayne Penniman, he was one of the genre’s pioneers and was a figure in popular culture for over seven decades.
He created some of his best-known works during the mid-50s. Songs like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” became instant chart-toppers. In 1957, however, he left secular music to pursue a life of ministry.
Despite Richard’s conversion, he left an indelible mark in music history. His flair for performance and energetic piano-playing style paved the way for future rock and roll artists.
7. Fats Domino
Piano player and musician Fats Domino began performing in bars by the age of 14. He was signed to Imperial Records by the age of 21 and wrote “The Fat Man” with the label’s producer, which is considered the first ever rock and roll single.
When “The Fat Man” record sold over a million copies by 1951, it became the first rock and roll single to do so. He went on to release “Ain’t That A Shame” and “Blueberry Hill,” the latter top 1 on the R&B charts.
Domino was praised by Elvis Presley, who described him as “the real king of rock and roll.” The King regarded Domino as a huge influence over his work.
8. Buddy Holly
Born Charles Hardin Holley, Buddy Holly was an influential and prolific figure in rock and roll. In just four short years, he wrote close to a hundred songs and codified what is now the traditional “rock and roll lineup” of two guitars, bass, and drums. He was one of the first rock and roll artists to write his own songs.
Holly rose to fame in 1955 after opening for Elvis Presley and Bill Haley and His Comets. By 1957, his song “That’ll Be The Day” had topped the charts, followed quickly by the mega-hit “Peggy Sue.”
In 1959, the music world unfortunately lost a legend. Holly died tragically young in a plane crash while on tour, but his legacy lives on in his work.
9. Harry Belafonte
Born in New York City, Harry Belafonte was raised for a while in Jamaica, the homeland of his parents. He returned to the US in 1940 and served in the US Navy during World War II.
In the ’50s, Belafonte began recording, but he shot to fame in 1956 with the album Calypso. It was the first album to sell more than one million copies, making it the first gold record awarded by RCA Victor.
Among his most notable hits from this era was “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” “Jamaica Farewell,” and “Island in the Sun.” He continued to enjoy success for decades, with other popular hits like “Jump in the Line (Shake Senora).”
Besides his musical career, Belafonte has acted and is a long-standing political activist. In 2022, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
10. Sam Cooke
Known as the King of Soul, Sam Cooke is considered one of the most influential soul artists of all time and a pioneer of the genre. Cooke began as a gospel singer for the group the Soul Stirrers.
In the late 1950s, he crossed over to performing secular music and gained fame. Some of Cooke’s best-known recordings include “Lost and Lookin’,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and “Twistin’ The Night Away.” His contributions to music gave rise to artists like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Al Green.
Cooke’s career was unfortunately cut short when he was shot by a motel manager who claimed self-defense. The nature of the events surrounding his death has long been a source of controversy.
11. Jerry Lee Lewis
Nicknamed the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, is known as one of rock and roll’s first “wild men” with his performance style of kicking and standing on his piano. He is also one of the most influential pianists of the twentieth century.
He grew up singing and performing at an evangelical school and found success after auditioning for Sun Records in 1956. Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” in 1957 rocketed him to worldwide fame. This was followed by more hits like “Breathless,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and “High School Confidential.”
Lewis has been inducted into several halls of fame and has won four Grammys. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him #24 on their 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time list.
12. James Brown
Godfather of Soul James Brown was the single most influential figure in soul and funk music and had a career spanning over 50 years.
During the 1950s, Brown was performing as a member of the Famous Flames, a rhythm and blues band. Their single “Please, Please, Please” was their first hit to sell more than a million copies. He went on to record 17 #1 singles in his career.
Brown is #7 on Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Artist Of All Time as well as an inductee of the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame.
13. Tony Bennett
One of the few musicians who found success in the ’50s outside rock and roll is Tony Bennett. He built a reputation for his interpretations of pop songs, jazz standards, and show tunes.
After fighting in the final stages of World War II as an infantryman, Bennett went to American Theatre Wing to study and proceeded to follow a singing career. He rose to fame in the mid-1950s with the songs “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches.” .
Bennett holds the record for the longest span of top 10 albums on the Billboard chart, and the Guinness World Record for the oldest person to release an album of new material. His career has spanned over seventy years, and in 2021, he retired from touring at the age of 95.
14. Bill Haley
American musician Bill Haley was born to a musical family—his father played the banjo and his mother was a trained classical pianist. He began performing at the age of 13, and allegedly left home at the age of 15 “with a guitar and little else” to pursue his dream of a music career.
He performed with his band the Comets throughout the ’50s, releasing top hits like “Rock Around The Clock” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” In 1955, he and his band appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, being the first rock and roll act to do so.
Haley helped contribute to the rise of musicians like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. He has gone on to sell over 60 million records, and in 1987, he posthumously became an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
15. Big Joe Turner
Born Joseph Vernon Turner Jr., Big Joe Turner was the Boss of the Blues. It is often said that rock and roll would never have happened without him. He began performing in Kansas City nightclubs at 14 and eventually partnered with the pianist Pete Johnson.
Known as a “blues shouter,” his original recording of “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” transformed popular music and catapulted Turner to fame in 1954. This decade was truly successful for him as his songs after the 1954 hit were all well received, including “Flip, Flop and Fly” and “Corrine, Corrina,” both of which went on to sell millions.
Summing Up Our List Of Famous 1950s Male Singers
These artists dominated the music of the 1950s and laid the groundwork for much of the popular music in years that followed. Their influence can still be felt to this day.
If you aren’t familiar with some of the names on this list, make sure you take a look at them. Your playlist won’t be complete without these names!