Music – 1950s

Bill Haley & His Comets

Bill Haley, who had been singing and playing guitar with a country & western combo since 1940 - when he was 15 years old - was one of the first white singers to realise that blues and country music could be rocked up to great effect. His first big record, made in 1951, was called Rock(...)

Billy Lee Riley

Billy Riley grew up in Pocahontas, Arkansas, and moved to Memphis in 1955 with the idea of making country records. He ended up as "the unsung hero of Sun rock 'n' roll". His mid 50's nearly-hits Red Hot and Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll featured then-unknown pianist Jerry Lee Lewis, but the Riley-led Sun Records house band - The Little Green(...)

Bo Diddley

Otha Ellas Bates was born on 30 December 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, and at the age of five, moved with his family to the south-side of Chicago. He spent his formative years studying classical violin, and later taught himself to play guitar. He also changed his surname to McDaniel, after his adoptive mother, Gussie McDaniel. As a(...)

Bobby Darin

Bobby Darin was born Walden Robert Cassotto on 14 May 1936, in the Bronx area of New York, and was raised by his mother - a former professional entertainer. His father had disappeared a few months before his birth. As an adult, Darin learned that the woman he thought to be his sister Nina, 17(...)

Bobby Freeman

17-year-old Bobby Freeman was still at High School in San Francisco when he began enjoying chart hits - none as great as his debut Do You Want To Dance? (1958). The song (which was also later a hit for The Beach Boys, The Mama's and The Papa's and Bette Midler) won him a gold record and made Freeman one of(...)

Brenda Lee

Born Brenda Mae Tarpley in Atlanta, Georgia, on 11 December 1944, Brenda Lee is rumoured to have taken to the road with a singing group at the age of five to help support her family. Certainly, she admitted to playing shows in Atlanta sports arenas and school-houses well before her tenth birthday, and to having(...)

Buddy Holly (& The Crickets)

Born Charles Hardin Holley on 7 September 1936, Buddy (as he was nicknamed from an early age by his family) first performed and broadcast in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, around 1954, singing and playing straight country and country-bop numbers with a school friend. During 1956 he first recorded professionally in Nashville, mostly his own(...)

Carl Perkins

Born in Lake County, Tennessee, on 9 April 1932, Carl Perkins began playing country music with his brothers Jay and Clayton for nearly a decade before he went to Memphis to sing for Sam Phillips. He signed to Sun Records and recorded Blue Suede Shoes which hit #2 in the Billboard Hot 100 on release in 1956 and was(...)

Chantels, The

Five New Yorkers led by 15-year-old Arlene Smith made the Top 20 in 1956 with Maybe and Look In My Eyes, produced by Alan Freed for George Goldner's Rama group of labels. This was the 'high school' school of pop at its most intense. Arlene Smith Vocals Sonia Goring Wilson Vocals Renee Minus White Vocals Lois Harris Powell(...)

Charlie Feathers

Rockabilly pioneer Charlie Feathers was born in the north-Mississippi hill country and experienced his two major musical influences by the age of nine, when he picked up blues licks from guitarist Junior Kimbrough and saw bluegrass great Bill Monroe perform. "Rockabilly comes from cotton-patch blues and bluegrass music," Feathers once said. "Ain't nothing else exciting(...)

Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins was born Chester Burton Atkins in Luttrell, Tennessee, on 20 June 1924. His father was a music teacher who specialised in piano. Atkins went from being a country guitarist to a Grand Ole Opry star to vice-president of RCA Victor when they bought up the unknown Elvis Presley's contract from Sun. Chet produced(...)

Chipmunks, The

Possibly the most popular TV and musical cartoon of all time, the Chipmunks enjoyed two periods of prosperity -  the '60s era of adolescent Baby Boomers and the '80s, when the Boomers' children were growing up. The man who brought the Chipmunks to life was born Ross Bagdasarian on 27 January 1919 in Fresno, California.(...)

Chordettes, The

The Chordettes, label-mates of The Everly Brothers, were one of the most successful of the many US Girl Groups of the 1950s, scoring seven US Top 40 hits before 1960. Before The Chordettes, female groups generally sang in barbershop-style harmony, but The Chordettes were closer to jazzy male groups like The Ink Spots. Their first and biggest hit(...)

Chuck Berry

There is much confusion surrounding the actual birth date of rock legend Charles Edward Berry. Most informed sources agree on 18 October 1931, yet some have put the year at 1926. His actual birthplace is also shrouded in confusion, though most people have settled for St Louis, Mississippi. Berry started singing at the age of(...)

Chuck Willis

An outstanding R&B singer from Atlanta, Chuck Willis became known as the 'king of the stroll', although he saw himself as a latter-day Johnny Ace. Legendary Atlanta DJ Zenas Sears, a white man who played black music on Georgia Tech's WGST-AM, spotted Willis in a talent contest and became his manager, helping to get him a(...)

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