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Top Music Artists From The 50s, Ranked

The fifties marked a period of transformation and rebirth for the United States, emerging from the shadows of World War II into an era of prosperity and innovation. It was during these years that the foundations of modern music were laid, giving rise to a new generation of artists who would forever change the landscape of sound and culture.

To honor the fifties and the revolutionary spirit they encapsulated, we’re excited to guide you through the most influential artists of the decade. While the 60s, 70s, and 80s are often celebrated for their musical icons, the 50s were pivotal in setting the stage for what was to come. So, let’s dive into the rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and jazz that defined a decade and gave voice to a new era!

#20 Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline was a pioneering figure in country music, known for her emotionally rich performances and distinctive voice. Her crossover appeal into pop music broadened her audience and helped lay the groundwork for future generations of country artists. Cline’s hits like “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Crazy” showcase her ability to convey deep emotion, making her one of the most respected and influential vocalists of her time.

Popular songs include:

  • “Walkin’ After Midnight”
  • “I Fall to Pieces”
  • “Crazy”
  • “She’s Got You”
  • “Sweet Dreams”

#19 Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley was a master of rhythm and one of the most influential figures in the development of rock and roll. Known for his distinctive “Bo Diddley beat,” a syncopated rhythmic pattern that became a staple in rock music, Diddley’s impact on the music industry extends far beyond his hit records. His energetic performances and innovative sound inspired countless musicians across genres, making him a pivotal figure in the evolution of modern music.

Popular songs include:

  • “Bo Diddley”
  • “I’m a Man”
  • “Who Do You Love?”
  • “Say Man”
  • “Road Runner”

#18 The Platters

The Platters were among the foremost vocal groups of the early rock and roll era, renowned for their smooth harmonies and romantic ballads. Their music crossed racial barriers in a time of segregation, reaching audiences of all backgrounds. The Platters’ sophisticated style brought a new level of artistry to the genre, with timeless classics that continue to resonate with listeners around the world.

Popular songs include:

  • “Only You”
  • “The Great Pretender”
  • “My Prayer”
  • “Twilight Time”
  • “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”

#17 Fats Domino


Fats Domino was a key figure in the popularization of rock and roll, with his boogie-woogie piano style and smooth vocals paving the way for future rock musicians. His extensive catalog of hits contributed significantly to the rock and roll movement of the 1950s, and his music’s joyous energy and infectious rhythms made him a beloved figure across the globe.

Popular songs include:

  • “Ain’t That a Shame”
  • “Blueberry Hill”
  • “I’m Walkin'”
  • “Whole Lotta Loving”
  • “Blue Monday”

#16 Jerry Lee Lewis


Jerry Lee Lewis, known as “The Killer,” brought a wild energy to rock and roll that was unprecedented. His aggressive piano playing and flamboyant stage presence earned him a reputation as one of the most dynamic performers of his time. Lewis’s career was marked by controversy, but his musical genius is undeniable, with a string of hits that have become staples of the rock and roll genre.

Popular songs include:

  • “Great Balls of Fire”
  • “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”
  • “High School Confidential”
  • “Breathless”
  • “Lewis Boogie”

#15 Little Richard

Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect of rock and roll,” was an unparalleled musical force whose high-energy performances and groundbreaking hits laid the foundation for the genre. His flamboyant style and powerful vocals broke barriers and set new standards for performance, influencing countless artists who followed. Little Richard’s contributions to music remain a testament to his extraordinary talent and enduring legacy.

Popular songs include:

  • “Tutti Frutti”
  • “Long Tall Sally”
  • “Good Golly Miss Molly”
  • “Rip It Up”
  • “Lucille”

#14 The Everly Brothers

The Everly Brothers, consisting of Don and Phil Everly, were pivotal in blending country with rock and roll, producing a sound that was both smooth and harmonious. Their close vocal harmonies became a hallmark of their music, influencing a wide range of artists across various genres. The Everly Brothers’ ability to convey emotion through their songs and seamless harmonies secured their place as one of the most beloved duos of their time.

Popular songs include:

  • “Bye Bye Love”
  • “Wake Up Little Susie”
  • “All I Have to Do Is Dream”
  • “Bird Dog”
  • “Cathy’s Clown”

#13 Ritchie Valens

Ritchie Valens was a pioneering figure in the Chicano rock movement and a forefather of Latin rock, achieving remarkable success at a young age. His adaptation of traditional Mexican music into rock and roll, including his hit “La Bamba,” showcased his ability to bridge cultural divides through music. Valens’ promising career was tragically cut short by the same plane crash that claimed Buddy Holly, but his legacy endures as a symbol of the potential for unity through the universal language of music.

Popular songs include:

  • “La Bamba”
  • “Donna”
  • “Come On, Let’s Go”
  • “Ritchie’s Blues”
  • “Ooh! My Head”

#12 Gene Vincent

Gene Vincent, with his backing band The Blue Caps, brought a rebellious edge to rockabilly music that captivated the youth of the 1950s. His song “Be-Bop-A-Lula” is considered a rock and roll anthem, and his style—a mix of country, blues, and rockabilly—helped shape the sound of rock music in its formative years. Vincent’s intense performances and pioneering spirit made him an icon of rock and roll rebellion.

Popular songs include:

  • “Be-Bop-A-Lula”
  • “Race with the Devil”
  • “Bluejean Bop”
  • “Lotta Lovin'”
  • “Wear My Ring”

#11 Bill Haley & His Comets

Bill Haley & His Comets were among the first groups to popularize rock and roll music in the early 1950s, bringing it into the mainstream. Their hit “Rock Around the Clock” became an anthem for a generation and is often credited with launching the rock and roll genre to a global audience. With their catchy tunes and energetic performances, Bill Haley & His Comets paved the way for the rock and roll explosion that followed.

Popular songs include:

  • “Rock Around the Clock”
  • “Shake, Rattle and Roll”
  • “See You Later, Alligator”
  • “The Saints Rock ‘n Roll”
  • “Razzle-Dazzle”

#10 Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry was a foundational figure in the development of rock and roll music, known for his innovative guitar playing, clever lyrics, and dynamic stage presence. His songs, which often told stories of teenage life in America, were instrumental in shaping the sound and attitude of rock music. Berry’s influence on music is immeasurable, with countless artists citing him as a major influence on their work.

Popular songs include:

  • “Johnny B. Goode”
  • “Maybellene”
  • “Roll Over Beethoven”
  • “Sweet Little Sixteen”
  • “Rock and Roll Music”

#9 Ray Charles

Ray Charles pioneered soul music, blending R&B, gospel, and blues to create a new sound that would come to define an era. Known as “The Genius,” his groundbreaking approach to music earned him critical acclaim and paved the way for future genres. Charles’ emotional delivery and innovative piano playing, combined with his unique voice, left an indelible mark on the music world.

Popular songs include:

  • “Hit the Road Jack”
  • “Georgia on My Mind”
  • “I Got a Woman”
  • “What’d I Say”
  • “Unchain My Heart”

#8 Miles Davis

Miles Davis was a legendary figure in jazz, constantly evolving and pushing the boundaries of the genre. His album “Kind of Blue” remains one of the most influential records in the history of jazz, introducing modal jazz to a wider audience. Davis’ ability to assemble and lead some of the greatest musicians of his time contributed to his long-lasting impact on music beyond just jazz, influencing rock, funk, and hip-hop artists.

Popular albums include:

  • “Kind of Blue”
  • “Birth of the Cool”
  • “Sketches of Spain”
  • “Bitches Brew”
  • “In a Silent Way”

#7 Buddy Holly & The Crickets

Buddy Holly & The Crickets brought rock and roll a new level of musical sophistication with their innovative songwriting and recording techniques. Holly’s sharp, witty lyrics and the band’s clean, crisp sound departed from the raw energy of early rock and roll, offering a glimpse of its future potential. The band’s influence can be seen in the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and countless other groups that followed.

Popular songs include:

  • “That’ll Be the Day”
  • “Maybe Baby”
  • “Rave On”
  • “It’s So Easy”
  • “Peggy Sue Got Married”

#6 Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash, the “Man in Black,” was a towering figure in country music, known for his deep, distinctive voice and the stark honesty of his songwriting. Cash’s music, which often explored themes of sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption, resonated with a wide audience, making him a beloved icon across musical genres. His influence on country, rock, folk, and blues cements his legacy as one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century.

Featured in our colorful albums collection: Black album covers

Popular songs include:

  • “I Walk the Line”
  • “Ring of Fire”
  • “Folsom Prison Blues”
  • “Man in Black”
  • “Hurt”

#5 Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole was a master of the jazz piano and a pioneer in the vocal pop genre, known for his smooth baritone voice and impeccable phrasing. His extensive catalog of hits spans jazz standards and pop ballads, showcasing his versatility and emotional depth. Cole’s groundbreaking television show and international success helped break down racial barriers in the entertainment industry, leaving a lasting legacy transcending music.

Popular songs include:

  • “Unforgettable”
  • “L-O-V-E”
  • “Mona Lisa”
  • “The Christmas Song”
  • “When I Fall in Love”

#4 Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald, known as the “First Lady of Song,” was one of the most celebrated jazz vocalists of the 20th century. Her remarkable range, impeccable timing, and the purity of her tone made her a master of scat singing and interpretation of the Great American Songbook. Fitzgerald’s collaborations with other jazz legends and her ability to bring jazz into the mainstream have made her an enduring musical figure.

Popular songs include:

  • “Dream a Little Dream of Me”
  • “Summertime”
  • “Cheek to Cheek”
  • “Lady Be Good”
  • “Blue Skies”

#3 Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra, with his signature smooth baritone voice, was one of the most influential and popular entertainers of the 20th century. Known as “The Voice,” Sinatra’s ability to convey emotion through his singing and impeccable phrasing and timing made him a master of the American songbook. His contributions to music and film have profoundly impacted popular culture, making him an iconic figure of style and sophistication.

Popular songs include:

  • “My Way”
  • “Fly Me to the Moon”
  • “New York, New York”
  • “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
  • “The Way You Look Tonight”

#2 Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong, often referred to as “Satchmo” or “Pops,” was a foundational figure in jazz music, known for his charismatic stage presence and innovative trumpet playing. His gravelly voice and inventive vocal improvisation influenced the development of jazz as a vocal art form. Armstrong’s enduring hits and joyful performances have made him a symbol of the joy and resilience of the human spirit.

Popular songs include:

  • “What a Wonderful World”
  • “Stardust”
  • “La Vie En Rose”
  • “When the Saints Go Marching In”
  • “Hello, Dolly!”

#1 Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll,” transformed the landscape of American music with his dynamic voice, charismatic performances, and blend of musical genres. His groundbreaking work in the 1950s brought rock and roll to the forefront of popular culture, challenging social and racial barriers in the music industry. Presley’s influence on music and his status as a cultural icon is unparalleled, making him one of the most significant figures in entertainment history.

Also featured in our top 60s artists!

Popular songs include:

  • “Heartbreak Hotel”
  • “Hound Dog”
  • “Jailhouse Rock”
  • “Love Me Tender”
  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love”

Continue the journey through the decades

Who was the biggest star of the 1950s?

Pinpointing the single most significant star of the 1950s is challenging due to the era’s rich musical landscape and the emergence of numerous influential artists. However, figures like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Frank Sinatra stand out for their pivotal roles in shaping the decade’s music. Elvis Presley’s explosion onto the rock and roll scene, Chuck Berry’s foundational guitar riffs and storytelling in song, and Frank Sinatra’s unmatched vocal style and charisma made them iconic symbols of the 1950s.

What was the biggest song of the 1950s?

Identifying the biggest song of the 1950s can vary depending on criteria such as chart success, cultural impact, or lasting legacy. “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets is frequently cited for its role in popularizing rock and roll music worldwide. Its infectious rhythm and broad appeal heralded the rock and roll era, influencing countless artists and fans alike. Other significant songs of the decade include Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.”

What was different about 1950s music?

Music of the 1950s was marked by the birth and rapid rise of rock and roll, which brought a new energy and youth-centric culture to the forefront. This decade witnessed the blending of genres, with influences from blues, jazz, country, and R&B melding to create the early sounds of rock and roll. The era also saw the increased presence of vocal groups and the continuation of the big band and swing music from the previous decades, albeit in a diminishing capacity. The 1950s set the stage for the cultural shifts that music would undergo in the subsequent decades, emphasizing the power of youth culture and the increasing importance of the single over the album.

What music genre was popular in the 1950s?

The 1950s were dominated by a few key genres, with rock and roll taking the lead as the decade progressed. Early in the decade, jazz, blues, and big band music were still highly popular, with artists like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra capturing the hearts of many. However, as rock and roll emerged, artists such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry became household names. This new genre, with its rebellious energy and appeal to teenage audiences, quickly overshadowed other forms of music to become the defining sound of the 1950s.

Emily, a writer and retro music enthusiast at Upbeat Geek, delves into the history of music and pop culture, spotlighting legendary artists and trends. A fixture at festivals and concerts, she brings the latest in music lore to the forefront. Emily’s love for music research is matched by her enjoyment of leisurely Sunday walks with her dog, Lee, reflecting her areas of writing: music and pop culture.

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