The term ’50s music’ is commonly used to describe popular music from the 1950s. The big band sounds of the 1940s faded in popularity, and rock and roll and country western took their place. According to some music historians, the increasing availability and popularity of television played a significant role in the success of many 1950s music artists and the genres they represented.
Music Styles in the 1950s:
1. Rock & Roll
Rock and roll was both a social and a musical force. Rock and roll was integrated during a time when much of American culture was segregated (blacks and whites were clearly separated). Blacks and whites formed bands together, recorded each other’s songs, and had their music broadcast on the same radio stations. A new type of radio programmer known as a disc jockey popularized rock and roll. Disc jockeys chose the music they played and helped thousands of devoted listeners discover new rock bands.
Rock and roll is a musical genre derived from R&B, country music, and pop. In the early 1950s, a disc jockey named Alan Freed began playing R&B music for a multi-racial audience, coining the phrase “rock and roll.” But it was Chuck Berry, not Elvis Presley, who invented or popularized the new music genre in the mid-1950s. On an electric guitar, rock and roll music usually sounds like the pentatonic scale found in blues music, and it is one of the most popular music genres today.
Rock and roll was a powerful new musical genre that fused elements of rhythm and blues (R&B), pop, blues, and hillbilly music to create a sound that shook America. Elvis Presley was the undisputed king of rock and roll in the 1950s. Presley’s hip-shaking stage performances enchanted adolescent girls. Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and Johnny Ray were among the other rock stars of the time.
2. Popular Music
The origins of popular music can be traced back to the 1920s. However, as time passed, pop music dominated the music charts during the first half of the 1950s. It was popular primarily because of the stories told in the songs or the emotions expressed in them. Unlike rock and roll, it focused on love and relationships rather than challenging society with its lyrics. However, the television performances of pop stars also played a significant role in keeping the music genre’s popularity stable until the mid-1950s.
For the first half of the decade, popular music dominated the charts. At the end of WWII, vocal-driven classic pop replaced big band/swing, though orchestras were frequently used to back the vocalists. 1940s style Crooners competed with a new generation of big-voiced singers, many of whom were inspired by Italian Canto Bella traditions. Mitch Miller, A&R man at Columbia Records, the era’s most successful label, set the tone for the development of popular music well into the middle of the decade. Miller helped to mainstream country, Western, rhythm & blues, and folk music by having many of his label’s biggest artists record them in a style that corresponded to Pop traditions. Miller frequently used innovative and captivating arrangements that featured classical instruments (whooping French horns, harpsichord) or sound effects (whip cracks). He approached each record as a mini-story, frequently “casting” the vocalist based on type.
Though the term “popular music” refers to music that appeals to a large number of people, the music genre “pop” is distinct from rock music. Pop songs are more focused on vocals, whereas rock songs are more focused on instruments such as bass and guitars. While pop is commercially aimed at a wide range of people, rock is intended for a specific subculture. Furthermore, rock music is created by a band in which each member plays a different instrument, whereas pop songs are performed by a single artist or a group of singers.
Jazz was the music of urban hipsters in the 1940s. Jazz in the 1940s was mostly heard in nightclubs, especially in black neighborhoods. Jazz was brought out of the cities and into new respectability in the 1950s through popular jazz festivals. The Newport Jazz Festival (later renamed the JVC Jazz Festival) in Newport, Rhode Island, became the granddaddy of American jazz festivals, drawing 26,000 fans in its second year. However, the festival’s coolest jazz musicians soon boycotted it. Many of them returned to performing in front of small groups of people they thought understood their increasingly difficult and intellectual music.
4. Country Music
Country music evolved during the 1950s, so it wasn’t all swaying hips and gelled-back hair. Rockabilly influences and the ability to dance to country music were introduced by artists such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Finally, Cash was well-known for performing for prison inmates, a practice that would last beyond the decade and result in Cash’s famous live album from Folsom Prison in 1968.
Country music of the time, for example, evolved from tunes played and sung in the rural hollows of the Appalachian Mountains. These songs evolved from old English, Irish, and Scottish folk songs. As Anglo and Celtic immigrants began to migrate from the North into the Appalachian valleys, they adopted songs, rhythms, and instrumentation from African-Americans migrating from the South. The banjo, for example, was originally an Arabian instrument that migrated to West Africa and then to America via the slave trade. Slaves recreated the instrument and began performing for their masters and neighbors, giving birth to the mistral show. Country musicians recognized the banjo’s percussive qualities and incorporated it into their genre.
5. Blues and Rhythm
Rhythm and blues had a significant impact on 1950s music as well. Artists such as Ray Charles, who emerged from the jazz and blues of the 1940s, influenced genres such as soul, Motown, and funk. The upbeat bluesy nature of the music popularized the New Orleans scene and inspired a new generation of jazz and blues fans.
R&B music was primarily purchased by African-Americans until the 1950s. However, in the 1950s, rhythm and blues gradually gained popularity among white teenagers. And previously unknown African-American musicians have gained fans all over the world.
When rhythm and blues began to gain popularity among Americans in the early 1950s, record labels such as Atlantic Records and Savoy began signing R&B singers and bands to capitalize on the genre. As a result, what was once known as race music or negro music became known as ‘rhythm and blues.’ And this was an event that changed many people’s lives by addressing America’s racial issues. In the 1950s, black people (despite continuing discrimination), primarily musicians, gained a higher status in white-dominated society. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Platters, The Drifters, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Lloyd Price, and Fats Domino were among the most popular R&B artists of the 1950s.