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. Enjoy!
1. Elvis Presley
Undoubtedly the “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley was one of the most influential figures in pop culture in the 20th 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.”
Presley’s success in the 1950s was defined by hits like “Love Me,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “All Shook Up.”
While his career continued into the 1970s, it was the 50s that produced some of his most enduring songs.
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 make 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
Nat King Cole, born Nathaniel Adams Cole, was a singer, jazz pianist, actor, and composer.
He was the first African American to host a TV show, a well-known film and television actor, and a Broadway star. He began taking formal piano lessons at age 12 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 trio, and for songs like “Get Your Kicks (Route 66)” and “The Christmas Song.”
Throughout the 50s, Cole would continue to sell millions of records, and his TV show The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC.
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.
As well as being a singer, Sinatra had an incredibly successful film career. The success of his performance in 1953’s From Here to Eternity (which earned 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
Chuck Berry, “The Father of Rock and Roll,” was a pioneer of the genre. His 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.
Berry began playing the blues in his teens, and by 1950 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.
6. Little Richard
Little Richard, born Richard Wayne Penniman, was a figure in the popular culture for over seven decades. Known as “The Architect of Rock and Roll,” he was one of the genre’s pioneers.
His flair for performance and energetic piano-playing style paved the way for future rock and roll artists.
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.
7. Fats Domino
Fats Domino was a piano player and musician known for having the first-ever rock and roll single, and the first single to sell over a million copies.
He was described by Elvis Presley as “the real king of rock and roll,” and regarded by Presley as a huge influence over his work.
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. That record sold over a million copies by 1951, making it the first rock and roll single to do so.
8. Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly, born Charles Hardin Holley, 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.” Holly died tragically young in a plane crash while on tour in 1959.
9. Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte is an American singer and songwriter. Born in New York City, 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.
Belafonte started recording in the 1950s. His breakthrough came 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 notable hits being “Jump in the Line (Shake Senora).
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022 besides his musical career, Belafonte has acted and is a long-standing political activist.
10. Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke was known as “The King of Soul,” and is considered one of the most influential soul artists of all time and a pioneer of the genre.
His contributions to music gave rise to artists like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Al Green.
He was also an integral part of the Civil Rights movement, parlaying his popularity with both black and white audiences to fight for change.
Some of Cooke’s best-known recordings include “Lost and Lookin’,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away.”
Cooke’s career was 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
Jerry Lee Lewis, nicknamed “The Killer,” is known as one of rock and roll’s first “wild men,” and one of the most influential pianists of the 20th Century.
His iconic performance style included kicking the piano, pounding on it, sitting on the keys, and even standing on it.
Lewis grew up in poverty in eastern Louisiana. When he showed a talent for the piano at a young age, his parents mortgaged their farm to buy him one.
He grew up singing and performing at an evangelical school, and found success after auditioning for Sun Records in 1956. His cover of “Great Balls of Fire” brought him international fame in 1957.
12. James Brown
James Brown was known by many nicknames—“The Godfather of Soul,” “Mr. Dynamite,” and “Soul Brother No. 1” among them.
He was the single most influential figure in soul and funk music and had a career spanning over 50 years.
During the 1950s, Brown was still performing as a member of The Famous Flames, a rhythm and blues band.
He did not achieve solo success until the 1960s, and it wasn’t until his performance at the Apollo Theater in 1963 that hits like “I Feel Good,” “Papa’s Got Brand New Bag,” and “Try Me,” would solidify the sound that made him an icon.
13. Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett is one of the few musicians who found success in the 50s outside rock and roll.
He built a reputation for his interpretations of pop songs, jazz standards, and show tunes, and his career has spanned over seventy years! He retired from touring in 2021 at the age of 95.
Bennett rose to fame in the mid-1950s with songs like “Because of You,” and “Rags to Riches.” Before beginning his career as a singer, he fought in the final stages of World War Two as an infantryman.
He holds the record for the longest span of top ten albums on the Billboard chart, and the Guinness World Record for the oldest person to release an album of new material.
14. Bill Haley
Bill Haley was credited with popularizing rock and roll with his hits “Rock Around the Clock” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
Halley 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 and 60s and helped contribute to the rise of musicians like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, both of whom opened for him.
15. Big Joe Turner
Big Joe Turner, born Joseph Vernon Turner, Jr., was “The Boss of the Blues.” It is often said that rock and roll would never have happened without him.
Known as a “blues shouter,” his recording of “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” transformed popular music and catapulted Turner to fame in 1954.
Turner began signing in church, and throughout his childhood earned money by signing on street corners. He left school at 14 to begin performing in Kansas City nightclubs and eventually partnered with the pianist Pete Johnson.
The duo moved to Los Angeles and gained traction throughout the 1940s, performing with artists like Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, and The Count Basie Orchestra.
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 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!