The 1950s were a time of massive cultural upheaval, and those changes were reflected in the decade’s music. Hit songs of this era run the gamut from older-style crooning numbers to hip-shaking rock and roll. The best male singers of the decade were just as diverse and included everyone from the older Rat Pack with their classic style to hot R&B and Motown performers to straight rock and roll.
Read on for a list of the top famous 1950s male singers.
1. Ray Charles
Ray Charles was a unique talent, who excelled at all parts of the songwriting process. Contemporaries referred to him as “The Genius.” Despite his blindness, he was among the most talented piano players in the world. His music crossed the genres of R&B, jazz, soul, and funk. Charles famously overcame early struggles with addiction to go on to enjoy a career that lasted several decades, during which he received honors from The Grammys, the NAACP, and the Kennedy Center, among many others.
2. Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash is best known as a country singer-songwriter with a deep voice and a penchant for writing songs of sorrow and isolation. But his catalog expands far beyond his better-known songs to include comedic songs, and even political protest songs—a gutsy move for any country artist. He is also remembered for his iconic duets, singing with a multitude of artists. His most frequent singing partner was his wife, June Carter Cash, with whom he performed the hit song, “Jackson.” He was known for his charitable work, which included prison advocacy and performing for incarcerated men, establishing children’s homes in Jamaica and Munich, and much more.
3. Hank Williams
Hank Williams was a shy man sometimes called the “Hillbilly Shakespeare.” But his uniquely twangy voice and songwriting gift made him a cross-genre hit in the forties and fifties. Williams was a versatile singer and songwriter, writing both toe-tappers like “Hey Good Lookin'” and darker songs about drinking and lost loves. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been the subject of at least three biopics, including 2015’s “I Saw the Light.”
4. Louis Armstrong
The accomplished vocalist and trumpet player Louis Armstrong, nicknamed “Satchmo,” was a New Orleans legend with a five-decades-long career in jazz. His unique, gravelly voice and unmistakable zest for life made him one of the most memorable performers in American music history. A few of his biggest hits include “Hello, Dolly,” “What a Wonderful World,” and a number of collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald. Armstrong was renowned for his kind and generous nature, which was reflected in his songwriting and also in the stories about him that were shared by his friends, fans, and fellow musicians alike.
5. Frank Sinatra
Heartthrob Frank Sinatra is remembered as one of the original crooners and a founding member of the Rat Pack. His music was popular with audiences of all ages throughout the forties and fifties. Sinatra began his prolific career working as a band singer. In addition to writing and performing numerous hit songs, he also co-starred in several movie musicals and even a few non-musical movies. In addition to his musical and acting chops, the singer is often remembered for his sometimes-tumultuous personal life, which included affairs and deep-set rumors of ties to organized crime.
6. Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley ushered in a new era of music that was aimed at a younger, teen audience. He shocked older generations with his gyrating dance moves and sultry, come-hither voice, even winding up on the bad side of the law for his on-stage antics. He went on to become one of the top-selling recording artists of all time and an actor who appeared in more than fifty films. Presley left a lasting influence on music and was a cultural iconoclast. His music continues to sell all over the world, even today.
7. Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke began his career as a member of the gospel band, The Soul Stirrers. Audiences immediately took note of his soaring singing style on gospel hits like “Touch The Hem Of His Garment.” He went on to a prolific solo career and came to be known as the “King of Soul.” And while he may have suffered a tragic end (he was murdered in the sixties), he will be best remembered for hits such as “Twistin The Night Away,” “Chain Gang,” and “Cupid.” While his career lasted only eight short years, he released fourteen studio albums and had 29 Top 40 singles in that time span.
8. Otis Redding
Otis Redding’s soulful singing style on hits like “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of the Bay” inspired soul artists of his generation and beyond. At the age of fifteen, he started off his career working with The Upsetters, a band that backed superstar Little Richard. Often referred to as the “Godfather of Soul,” Redding is widely regarded as one of the most important American music artists. He was also a Grammy Award winner and received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. Sadly, Redding never had the chance to see the immense success of his biggest hit song as he was killed in a plane crash prior to its release.
9. Roy Orbison
Singer, songwriter, and musician Roy Orbison is remembered not only for his complex songwriting style and emotional singing voice but also for his “man in black” persona. He sported dyed-black hair and wore all-black outfits and dark glasses for his performances. Interestingly, Orbison and Elvis Presley shared a mutual admiration for each other, which is reflected in the sultry stage presence of both performers. A few of Orbison’s best-known songs include “Only the Lonely,” “In Dreams,” “Crying,” and “You Got It.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen in 1987.
10. Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett may hold a record for one of the longest-running musical careers in history. The singer-songwriter has recorded music since his 1946 nightclub debut. His musical catalog includes duets with musical icons both modern and classic. In 2021, Bennett teamed up with Lady Gaga to perform two sold-out New York performances. A few of his better-known songs include “Stranger in Paradise,” “Blue Velvet,” and “The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams.”
11. Nat King Cole
Alabama native Nat King Cole, who was born Nathaniel Adams Coles, will always be remembered for his musical accomplishments, including multiple hit big band and jazz songs infused with his one-of-a-kind baritone. He made history in 1956 when he became the host of his own variety TV series—the first African American to do so. Cole had hits on the US and UK R&B and pop charts every year from 1942 to 1964. He was also the recipient of a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Cole’s daughter, Natalie Cole, was also an award-winning singer and songwriter.
12. Little Richard
Little Richard was a pioneer in more ways than one. He brought his wildly unique performing style and breathtaking vocal range to hits like “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Tutti Frutti.” He was an incredibly accomplished pianist and performer and also appeared in several rock n’ roll-themed movies. The pop culture icon has more recently appeared as a character in The Simpsons television series.
13. James Brown
The undisputed “Godfather of Soul” started his career in the 1950s, singing hits like “It’s A Man’s World” and “Got To Cry.” James Brown was known for his signature dramatic performances and his association with the black pride movement. His list of awards includes three Grammy wins (from eight nominations), BET, Kennedy Center, and Walk of Fame awards, among many others. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Brown also acted and starred in several movies. “Get On Up,” a biography about him, was released in 2014.
14. Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly’s distinctive voice shined in the songs that made up his short career. By the age of 16, he was already known as a top-notch performer. Fans fell for Holly’s happy-go-lucky personality, singing style, and obvious love of music. He is best remembered for the hits “That’ll be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.” The singer famously died in a tragic 1959 airplane crash that also took the lives of several other musical artists who were on tour with Holly and his band.
15. Jerry Lee Lewis
They don’t call Jerry Lee Lewis “The Killer” for nothing. His breakneck performing style made him a standout even amongst rock n’ roll’s early icons. He is known for both his crazy onstage antics—including setting his piano ablaze—and an astounding catalog of hit songs. There have been several movies made about the rock icon’s life, most notably 1989’s “Great Balls Of Fire,” starring Dennis Quaid. Lewis has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986) and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
16. Fats Domino
Fats Domino, born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., enjoyed a five-decade career, during which he sold more than 65 million records. A true musical pioneer, Domino was an accomplished singer, songwriter, and musician. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after receiving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His signature song, “On Blueberry Hill” was his biggest hit, reaching number four on the US Billboard Top 100 chart in 1956.
17. Paul Anka
Canadian-American singer Paul Anka is known for several hits from the late fifties and sixties, as well as for writing the theme song for “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. In addition to performing hits like “Lonely Boy” and “Diana,” he also wrote songs for other popular fifties artists, including Tom Jones. Anka has also made more than 26 TV and movie appearances throughout his long-running career.
18. Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte, who was born in NYC but spent swaths of his childhood in Jamaica, is one of the best 1950s male singers. He’s known for bringing the sound of the island and Calypso music to the greater American public. He is best remembered for his silky singing voice and calypso-inspired hits, such as 1957’s “The Banana Boat Song.” In addition to his prolific musical career, he is also known for his work with the civil rights movement and his award-winning turns in acting.
19. Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby, who was born Harry Lillis Crosby Jr., enjoyed a recording career that lasted almost fifty years, during which he recorded a whopping 1,700 songs. Known for both his smooth crooning voice and everyday-guy persona, he was not only a singer but a comedic actor. Crosby worked with innumerable music legends during his long career, including Rosemary Clooney, Lauren Bacall, Peggy Lee, Maurice Chevalier, and even rocker David Bowie—to name a few!
20. Andy Williams
Howard Andrew Williams, better known as Andy Williams, started off singing with his brothers at only seven years old and quickly found his way onto the radio before he started his solo career. He appeared regularly on the “Tonight Show” throughout the 1950s and later opened his own musical theater, Moon River, in Branson, Missouri. Williams holds six Grammy nominations.
21. Porter Wagoner
Ozarks-born country singer-songwriter Porter Wagoner began performing in 1946 and found himself on the radio by 1950. He was signed to RCA Records and recorded with numerous country music superstars throughout his career. Most notably, he shared a musical partnership with Dolly Parton for seven years.
The 1950s truly were a pivotal decade for music, as this small sampling of the best male singers of this era illustrates. Artists of the 1950s were working in a unique time when various types of music were beginning to come together with lots of crossover appeal. Hopefully, this list inspires a deeper dig into the eclectic musical offerings of the 1950s.