Music of the 1950s had three phases: the end of the big-band era through the early '50s, the rock 'n' roll era of the mid-'50s and a revival of pop standards in the late '50s. The rock 'n' roll era paralleled the rise of R&B music, as both genres were fueled by independent record labels.
Four-track recordings began to appear with Les Paul and Mary Ford's "How High the Moon" in 1951. The record hit number one on the Billboard chart for 9 weeks and is a NARAS Hall of Fame selection.
Perry Como was a leading lounge act of the early 1950s along with Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. Patti Page and Jo Stafford were leading female artists. Hank Williams had built up a string of Top 10 country hits at the time of his death in 1953 at the age of 39.
Rock 'n' roll was a term used in R&B songs as far back as the 1930s, but was first used to describe a musical genre by Cleveland radio disc jockey Alan Freed in the early 1950s. Early rock 'n' roll songs include "Rocket 88" by Ike Turner and "Shake, Rattle & Roll" by Big Joe Turner.
Elvis, Top Artists
In 1955 "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets became the first rock 'n' roll record to top the Billboard singles chart. Elvis Presley began having national hits in 1956 starting with "Heartbreak Hotel." Other artists that popularized the new music were Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
Buddy Holly & The Crickets had popular hit singles including "That'll Be the Day" before a fatal plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959 killed Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens, whose biggest hit was a rendition of "La Bamba."
Several pop standards of the 1930s and 1940s were hits again in the late 1950s, such as Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" and The Platters' "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." Doo-wop became an established sound while R&B was popularized by Ray Charles.