The 1950s was an influential period for several music genres, from rock and roll and classic pop to blues, doo-wop, and country.
Even decades after their time, these singers inspire new artists and pique the curiosity of people interested in discovering vintage music.
In this post, we’re going to dive into the decade as we take a look at 21 of the greatest and most famous singers of the 1950s whose music remains iconic to avid music lovers.
1. Dean Martin
Often referred to as the King of Cool, Dean Martin initially started his career as a nightclub singer at an early age, incorporating a crooning singing style in his performances, taking inspiration from Bing Crosby and Harry Mills.
Martin appeared in several movies throughout his career, collaborating with comedian Jerry Lewis from the late 1940s to the late 1950s and befriending Frank Sinatra.
During his career, he made over 30 albums and over 100 songs, including “You Belong To Me,” “That’s Amore,” and “Powder Your Face with Sunshine.”
Even decades after his passing, his songs have appeared in countless movies and television shows.
2. Elvis Presley
Another iconic voice of the decade we can’t leave out of this list is Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll himself. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935, he and his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948.
Some of his most popular songs were recorded during his rise to stardom throughout the 1950s, including “Shake, Rattle, And Roll,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”
His unique voice and bold performance skills made him a sensational icon amongst America’s youth. He’s regarded as one of the best-selling solo music artists, selling over 500 million records throughout the decades.
3. Brenda Lee
Our next ’50s singer, Brenda Lee, is best known for her works in performing rockabilly, pop, and country music.
She started singing at about five years of age and performed on many television and radio shows before getting offered a contract by Decca Records in 1956.
She recorded the Christmas classic “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” in 1958 when she was 13.
Lee has sold over 100 million records during her career. She received Grammy Awards nominations for “Best Female Pop Vocal Performer” in 1970 and “Best Female Country Vocal Performer” in 1980 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
4. Perry Como
Born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1912, Perry Como was best known for his easy-listening vocal pop music. He initially wanted to be a barber but was offered to sing with Freddy Carlone’s band when he was 14.
He signed his first contract with RCA Victor in 1943 and released the song “Goodbye, Sue” in the same year. During his musical career throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he sold over 100 million records.
Como also had a seven-year film contract with 20th Century Fox and made several TV appearances. He received a Best Vocal Performance Grammy Award in 1959 and five Emmy awards from 1955 to 1959.
5. Ruth Brown
Glamorous R&B singer Ruth Brown was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1928. In 1945, she ran away from home to start her life as a nightclub performer with trumpeter Jimmy Brown, whom she would later marry.
After a nine-month delay because of a car crash injury, Brown signed with Atlantic Records. Her 1950 hit, “Teardrops From My Eyes,” was #1 on Billboard‘s R&B list for 11 weeks, earning her the nickname Miss Rhythm and the Queen of R&B.
Her songs stayed at the top of the R&B charts for 149 weeks from 1949 to 1955. She also fought for musicians’ rights and royalties in 1987.
6. Nat King Cole
Jazz and R&B singer Nat King Cole was a notable for having recorded over 100 songs. He began taking piano lessons at 12 and began his music career at 15, performing at several Chicago clubs whenever he had the opportunity before forming the King Cole Trio with Wesley Prince and Oscar Moore.
He performed with several jazz groups throughout his career in the 1950s. Cole released several hits during this period, including “Mona Lisa” in 1950 and “Too Young” in 1951.
In 1990, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2020.
7. Ella Fitzgerald
Queen of Jazz Ella Fitzgerald began her performance career in 1934 after getting the opportunity to perform at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night. She received an encore from a crowd surprised by her talent.
Throughout her career, she also collaborated with several music icons, like Louis Armstrong, Bill Kenny & The Ink Spots, Duke Ellington, and Frank Sinatra. Her voice had plenty of flexibility that dazzled audiences across the globe.
Fitzgerald sold over 40 million albums and won 13 Grammy Awards. She also made several guest appearances on many television shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Frank Sinatra Show, and The Andy Williams Show.
8. Bill Haley
One of the most influential rock and roll singers in the United States during the 1950s was Bill Haley. From an early age, music resonated with him. His parents were skilled musicians, specializing in the banjo, mandolin, and piano.
Eventually, Haley and his band, The Comets, signed recording contracts with Holiday Records, Essex Records, and Decca Records and released several smash hits throughout the decade.
One of his most well-known songs, “Rock Around The Clock,” sold over 25 million copies, gaining more popularity after its initial release because of its inclusion in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle. He also toured Europe, Australia, and Latin America.
9. Patti Page
Hailing from from Claremore, Oklahoma, Patti Page was a popular country and traditional pop singer. She signed her first music contract in 1948 with Mercury Records.
Although she recorded several top-chart songs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, her 1950 cover of “Tennessee Waltz” became one of her best-selling songs, which topped Billboard’s Pop Music chart for 30 weeks.
Page performed at several concerts for over half a decade until her retirement in 2012. By this time, she had released pop hits in her prime as rock and roll became a dominant music genre in the United States. She sold over 100 million records throughout her career.
10. Bobby Darin
Born Walden Robert Cassotto, Bobby Darin was one of the most versatile singers genre-wise in the 1950s. He was a skillful musician during his teenage years, which carried on throughout his career.
Darin released several well-known songs during the 1950s, such as “Splish Splash,” “Dream Lover,” “Mack The Knife,” and “Beyond The Sea.”
He also acted in a few movies and television programs and was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actor” for his performance in Captain Newman, MD.
In the 1960s, he became involved in Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign. In 1990, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously inducted him for his musical influence.
11. Harry Belafonte
Although Harry Belafonte was born in New York City, he spent most of his childhood in Jamaica. He eventually returned to New York, served in the navy during World War II, and took acting classes at the Dramatic Workshop.
In 1956, his album Calypso sold more than one million copies. As a result, Belafonte was soon regarded as the King of Calypso by the American public.
Some of his most notable hits during this decade include “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” “Jamaica Farewell,” and “Mama Look A Boo Boo.”
He contributed to the Civil Rights Movement and continues to participate in humanitarian and political activism to this day.
12. Wanda Jackson
Known as the Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson is one of the most iconic female rock and roll and country music stars of the 1950s. At an early age, she learned how to play piano and guitar.
Although she initially performed country music during her teen years, she decided to focus on playing rock and roll after a few performances with Elvis Presley.
When Jackson signed a contract with Capitol Records in 1956, she released several rock and roll singles during the next few years, including “I Gotta Know,” “Baby Loves Him,” and “Mean, Mean Man.” Some of her rock songs have a country-style influence.
For her influence in the industry, Jackson has been inducted into several Halls of Fame, including the International Gospel Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
13. Julie London
Born in Santa Rosa, California, in 1929, Julie London was an actress and singer. Her parents were former vaudeville performers.
Before becoming an actress, she sang at nightclubs during her teenage years. Some of her most notable early film appearances include The Red House (1947) and The Fat Man (1951).
In 1955, she began her singing career after being noticed by a record producer while performing at a jazz club.
She recorded 32 albums during her career, gravitating towards the jazz and pop genres. Being a chain smoker since she was 16 gave her voice a smoky, sultry tone for which she was noted for.
14. Pat Boone
Next up is Pat Boone, another noteworthy American singer. Although he released several traditional pop singles, he experimented with several music genres throughout the years.
One of his first big hits was his cover of Fats Domino’s song “Ain’t That A Shame” in 1955. Several of Boone’s singles topped Billboard’s charts, rivaling the likes of Elvis Presley.
He sold over 45 records worldwide, recorded over 2,300 songs, and starred in several movies, such as Bernardine (1957).
Since Boone had a religious upbringing, he also recorded gospel tracks later in his career. In 2003, he got inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
15. Chuck Willis
Also known as the King of Stroll, Chuck Willis was a talented R&B and rock and roll singer. He got his epithet because of how often he incorporated the Stroll dance into his performances.
He signed his first record label in 1951 with Columbia Records. During the next few years, he released several popular R&B tracks with Atlantic Records.
Willis wrote each of his songs diligently to ensure they were polished enough for recording. His most popular song, “C.C. Rider,” topped Billboard’s R&B chart in 1957. His last major hit, “What Am I Living For,” gained popularity after his death in 1958.
16. Eartha Kitt
South Carolinian Eartha Kitt was a member of the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe and toured worldwide with the group from 1943 to 1948. Amazingly, she could sing in over ten languages. Some of her 1953 hits included “C’est Si Bon,” “Santa Baby,” and “I Want To Be Evil.”
Kitt worked in several movies, television shows, and stage productions during the 1950s and 1960s. She was also a dedicated civil rights activist. She performed internationally after speaking out against the Vietnam War in 1968.
Her performance skills and witty attitude made her popular among several international crowds. She was once deemed “the most exciting woman in the world” by Orson Wells.
17. Amos Milburn
Next up, we have Amos Milburn, who was best known as a talented R&B singer and pianist. After enlisting in the US Navy, he returned to Houston and performed at several clubs within the city.
During the 1950s, Milburn recorded several R&B drinking songs. His 1953 jump blues single “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” ranked second on Billboard‘s R&B chart for 14 weeks.
His transition from traditional jazz to a more upbeat jump blues style was monumental for its prioritization of a song’s rhythm and vocal stylization.
Although his popularity dipped by the late 1950s, his style influenced several rising artists, including Fats Domino.
18. Johnny Burnette
Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Johnny Burnette was a rockabilly singer and songwriter. After giving up his professional boxing dreams, he, his brother Dorsey, and their old friend Paul Burlison formed a band in 1952, later renamed the Rock and Roll Trio.
After the band disbanded in 1957, Burnette pursued a solo music career. Early in 1960, he released his single “Dreamin’,” which sold over one million copies and ranked 11 on Billboard‘s Hot 100.
Tragically, in 1964, Burnette died in a boating accident when he was 30 years old. In 2000, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Despite his short-lived career, he played a significant role in rockabilly’s rising popularity.
19. Brook Benton
Benjamin Franklin Peay—better known as Brook Benton—was born in Lugoff, South Carolina, in 1927. He was introduced to gospel music when he was young and started performing with several gospel groups in 1948. Benton also wrote songs for several music icons of the decade, including Nat King Cole.
Although he released a few songs between 1955 and 1958, Benton made his mark on the music world in 1959 with his single “It’s Just a Matter of Time.” The song sold over a million copies and ranked first on Billboard’s R&B chart and third on the Pop chart.
Benton released a total of 38 singles during his career.
20. Big Maybelle
Born Mabel Louise Smith, Big Maybelle was a popular rhythm and blues singer during the 1950s. Her stage name emphasized her bold, toned voice.
After spending a few years performing with Dave Clark’s Memphis Band and the all-female International Sweethearts of Rhythm, she recorded a few solo albums.
In 1953, she recorded “Gabbin’ Blues” for Okeh Records, which became a number-three hit on Billboard‘s R&B chart.
Her 1956 hit, “Candy,” placed 11th on their list and received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, 27 years after her death. She also performed at the Apollo Theater and the Newport Jazz Festival.
21. Faye Adams
Lastly we have Faye Adams, later known as Atomic Adams. She was an influential rhythm and blues singer born in 1922. Her father was a gospel singer, and she began singing when she was five.
Her career took off during the early 1950s after performing at several New York nightclubs. Popular singer Ruth Brown got Adams an audition with Joe Morris’s band. After that, she got her contract with Herald Records in 1953.
She recorded the song “Shake A Hand” in 1953, which sold one million copies and topped the US Billboard’s R&B charts for ten weeks. In 1963, she retired from the music industry after recording for smaller record labels.
Summing Up Our List Of Famous 1950s Singers
The 1950s’ music was very influential amongst the public as new styles developed throughout the years. No matter which genre you prefer, you’re bound to find a singer whose style will resonate with you.
If any of our list’s choices interest you, feel free to add their top hits to your online playlists to give your life a bit more musical flair. Perhaps you’ll find a new vintage favorite.