African American Music of the 1950s

During this decade, the 50’s brought out the stardom and success of some of the biggest names in the music industry. Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Nate King Cole, BB King and Muddy Waters, just to name a few, were some of the pioneers that dominated this era. Hit music was mainly a combination of rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock music. Popular music during this era was consistently heard through airwaves and recorded for live production on hit 1950’s shows like American Band Stand and the Ed Sullivan Show.

Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole, born Nataniel Adams Cole on March 17, 1919, had one of the most memorable and inspiring voices of the 1950’s. He became one of the most famous Black presenter during this time. Even though his image was criticism by white viewers, Cole’s music and voice had a way of inspiring the African American culture and unifing his listeners. After losing his battle of lung cancer on Februrary 15, 1965, Cole’s hit songs Unforgettable, L-O-V-E, and Natural Boy are still cherish in the R&B spectrum.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Jane Fitzgerald, also known as “The First Lady of Song” and “Lady Ella”, wowed the world with her pure tone and rhythmic scat in the jazz scene. Within her 59 year musical career, Fitzgerald along with her choice of big band or orchestra moved and carried a wide rang of listeners within all races. Her dedication to her music and songbook collection showed throughout her 40-45 week tours nonstop nationally throughout the world, one of the longest the industry has been during this decade.

Ray Charles

Ray Charles Robinson, one of the world’s greatest pianist and singer, had a great impact on music ranging from soul, gospel, and rock and roll. He gained stardom at the age of fifteen after playing with different bands in cafes and clubs. Even though he is visibly impaired, Ray Charles was listed one of the greatest singers of all time. He gained numerous number one hit throughout his career such as “Georgia On My Mind”, “Hit The Road Jack”, “Unchain My Heart”, and “What’d I Say Pt 1 and Pt 2”. These hits alone made his career as a musician and composer.

War Brung Change

At the end of World War I, “The Great Migration” began. Croppers and slaves from the north migrated from the south to the north in hope of a change and better situation then their previous lives. With them they brought only their hopes, dream, and their growing hidden culture, music and dance. With dance there was a outlet in which they could express their pain, frustration, suffering because of an unequal society, and hardship which showed in early music of the 1950s.


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