1950s music is optimistic and fun. And while we may view the 1950s as a decade of innocence, people in the 1950s remembered how hard-fought this time of peace really was.
Uncle Sam used the GI Bill to encourage Americans to pursue an education and buy a house. And the bill helped. It also discriminated against Black veterans and led to some predatory for-profit schools. Despite these issues, education and home ownership exploded.
New businesses applied the tech invented during the war to the peacetime economy. We had cheap oil and fast cars. We had an educated workforce and a growing population. Things were looking good. Worker productivity was up. Add in strong labor protections and we get the strongest growth of the US middle class in history.
People who grew up during the tail end of the Great Depression finally had prosperity. And people who survived the deadliest war in all of human history enjoyed a moment of peace. So they bought cool cars and rocked out to 1950s music. Also, they fell in love and made lots of babies.
1950s Music: The Birth of Rock and Roll
During the 1950s, cars were affordable and most sported radios. So 1950s music took to the streets. By far, the mosts popular genre of the 1950s was Rock and Roll. But the rock of the 1950s was very different than the rock of later eras.
A Musical Melting Pot
In the 1950s, despite Brown vs Board of Education, much of the US was still segregated. But not the music scene. In music, we saw Black people from America, Africa, and the Caribbean playing with mixed-race and European-heritage people. Chuck Berry refined the sound of Rock and Roll. And Les Paul popularized the electric guitar. Johnny Mathis would become one of the best-selling artists in history. And Little Richard pioneered the on-stage showmanship of Rock and Roll.
Elvis Presley brought Rock and Roll to the mainstream through motion pictures, television appearances, and rock concerts. Also, he popularized the four-person rock band. By the later 1950s, rock music by Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley was blasting from Fords and Chevys across the US. In the era before electric pianos and synthesizers, 1950s rock bands typically consisted of a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums.