A Chronology of Rock Music - The 1950s

Excerpted from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music"

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These, of course, are my personal opinions on when genres where invented, who invented them, and which were the most significant events. To understand how I justify these opinions you have to read my book "A History of Rock Music".

1950
  • Jac Holzman founds Elektra in New York to promote new folk and jazz musicians
  • Les Baxter's Music Out of the Moon incorporates exotic themes in instrumental music
  • The first major rhythm'n'blues festival is held in Los Angeles (the "Blues & Rhythm Jubilee")
  • Dutch electronics giant Philips enters the recording business
1951
  • The white Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed decides to speculate on the success of Leo Mintz's store and starts a radio program, "Moondog Rock'n'Roll Party", that broadcasts black music to an audience of white teenagers
  • The first rock and roll record, Ike Turner's Rocket 88, is released
  • The first juke-box that plays 45 RPM records is introduced
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen joins the school of music at Darmstadt and begins composing "elektronische musik"
  • The French national radio sets up a studio to record electronic music in Paris and the West Deutsche Radio creates a similar studio in Cologne (the NWDR)
  • John Cage composes music for radio frequencies
  • Howling Wolf and Joe Turner popularize the "shouters"
  • Victor and Columbia agree to split the record market: Victor sells 33 RPM long-playing records and Columbia sells 45 RPM records
  • Gunter Lee Carr cuts the dance novelty We're Gonna Rock
  • The first Jamaican studio opens and begins recording "mento" music
1952
  • Bill Haley forms the Comets, the first rock and roll band
  • Louis and Bebe Barron's soundtrack for the science-fiction film The Bells of Atlantis uses only electronic instruments
  • The Weavers, accused of being communists, are forced to dissolve
  • Bob Horn's "Bandstand" tv program airs from Philadeplhia every weekday afternoon
  • John-Clellon Holmes coins the expression "beat generation" to refer to Jack Kerouac and other young writers
  • The Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed (aka Moondog) organizes the first rock and roll concert, the "Moondog Coronation Ball"
  • Oskar Sala invents the "Mixtur-Trautonium", an instrument capable of subharmonics
  • John Cage composes multi-media pieces that use a computer
  • John Cage's Williams Mix is an electronic collage of hundreds of random noises
  • John Cage's Water Music (1952) instructs the performers to also perform non-musical gestures
  • Gibson introduces its solid-body electric guitar, invented by Les Paul a few years earlier
  • Roscoe Gordon, a Memphis pianist, invents the "ska" beat with No More Doggin'
  • Sam Phillips founds Sun Records and declares "If I could find a white man who sings with the Negro feel, I'll make a million dollars"
  • Electronic engineers Harry Olsen and Hebert Belar create the first synthesizer at RCA's Princeton Laboratories, the Mark I
  • Charles Brown's Hard Times is the first hit by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to enter the charts
  • The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is founded to represent the recording industry of the USA
1953
  • Bill Haley's Crazy Man Crazy is the first rock and roll song to enter the Billboard charts
  • The Orioles' Crying in the Chapel is the first black hit to top the white pop charts
  • Todd Matshikiza's musical Makhaliphile fuses classical, jazz and African music
  • Sam Phillips records the first Elvis Presley record in his Sun studio of Memphis using two recorders to produce an effect of "slapback" audio delay
  • Hank Williams dies at 30
  • CBS launches a sub-label, Epic
  • Delmark is founded by Bob Koester
  • The black market constitutes 5.7% of the total American market for records
  • Youstol Dispage releases his first record
  • Vee-Jay is founded in Indiana, owned by a black couple and specializing in black music
1954
  • Boom of doo-wop
  • Bill Haley's version of "Rock Around The clock" is the first rock song used in a movie soundtrack
  • Joe Turner cuts the blues novelty Shake Rattle And Roll
  • The record companies switch from 78 RPMs to 45 RPMs
  • EMI (Electrical and Musical Industries) buys Capitol
  • The Country Music Disc Jockeys' Association (CMA) is founded in Nashville
  • Japanese electronic company TTK (later Sony) introduces the world's first transistor radio
  • The first Newport Jazz Festival is held, the first hazz festival in the world
  • Edgar Varese pioneers tape music with Deserts
  • Otto Luening's Fantasy In Space and Vladimir Ussachevsky's A Poem In Cycles And Bells pioneer "tape music" at Columbia University
1955
  • "Rebel Without A Cause" and "Blackboard Jungle" establish a new role model for teenagers, the rebellious loner and sometimes juvenile delinquent
  • Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours (1955) is the first concept album of pop music
  • Millett Morgan releases a recording of the Ionosphere
  • Pete Seeger releases the first album of African music by a white musician, Bantu Choral Folk Songs
  • Lonnie Donegan's Rock Island Line launches a new genre in Britain, "skiffle"
  • Hungarian composer Georg Ligeti, while studying at Cologne, coins a "texture music" that has minimal movement
  • Chuck Berry cuts his first rock and roll records, the first ones to have the guitar as the main instrument, and invents the descending pentatonic double-stops (the essence of rock guitar)
  • Bo Diddley invents the "hambone" rhythm
  • The Chordettes and the Chantels are the first girl-groups
  • Ray Charles invents "soul" music with I Got A Woman, a secular adaptation of an old gospel
  • Indian sarod player Ali Akbar Khan performs at the Museum of Modern Art of
  • ABC-Paramount is founded in New York New York
  • The magazine "Village Voice" is founded by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher and Norman Mailer
  • Ace Records is formed by Johnny Vincent in New Orleans, specializing in black music
  • Charlie Parker dies at the age of 35
1956
  • Heartbreak Hotel starts Presley-mania
  • The rock'n'roll music of white rockers is called "rockabilly" (rock + hillbilly)
  • Screamin Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You and his antics pioneers gothic rock
  • Wanda Jackson is the "queen of rockabilly"
  • The popularity of rock and roll causes the record industry to boom and allows independent labels to flourish
  • Ska develops in Jamaica
  • Martin Denny's Exotica invents a new genre
  • Norman Granz founds Verve to promote alternative jazz musicians
  • Elektra pioneers the "compilation" record, containing songs by different musicians
1957
  • Golden age of the teen-idols
  • Link Wray's Rumble invents the "fuzz-tone" guitar sound
  • LaMonte Young composes music for sustained tones
  • Max Mathews begins composing computer music at Bell Laboratories
  • Lejaren Hiller writes a program for a computer to compose the Illiac Suite
  • Bruno Maderna's Musica su Due Dimensioni is the first electroacoustic composition
  • Harry Belafonte's Banana Boat launches "calypso"
1958
  • Golden age of instrumental rock
  • Eddie Cochran overdubs all instruments and vocals on Summertime Blues and C'mon Everybody
  • The Kingstone Trio's Tom Dooley launches the folk revival
  • Lowman Pauling uses guitar distortion and feedback on the Five Royales' The Slummer The Slum
  • The film company Warner Brothers enters the recording business
  • Big Bill Broonzy dies at 65
  • RCA introduces the first stereo long-playing records
  • Don Kirshner opens offices at the Brill Building
  • The RIAA establishes a "gold" award for singles and albums which reach $1 million sales
  • David Seville's The Witch Doctor and the Tokens' Tonite I Fell In Love are the first novelty hits
  • Edgar Varese premieres his Poeme Electronique in a special pavilion designed by architect Le Corbusier, where the music reacts with the environment
  • John Fahey invents "American primitivism"
  • Bobby Freeman's Do You Wanna Dance begins the "dance craze"
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim's Chega de Saudade coins bossanova
  • The Columbia-Princeton studio is established in New York for avantgarde composers, with an RCA Mark II synthesizer
  • Stax is founded in Memphis to promote black music
1959
  • Frank Zappa and Donald Van Vliet cut a record together
  • In Jamaica Theophilus Beckford cuts the first "ska" song, Easy Snapping
  • Rick Hall founds the FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama
  • Puertorican dj Polito Vega starts broadcasting Latin music in New York
  • The Drifters' There Goes My Baby introduces Latin rhythm into pop music
  • Babatunde Olatunji's Drums of Passion introduces the USA to African polyrhythms
  • The first Newport Folk Festival is held
  • John Cage performs "live electronic music"
  • LaMonte Young and others found the "Fluxus" movement
  • Barry Gordy founds Tamla Motown in Detroit to release party-oriented soul records
  • Chris Blackwell founds Island in Jamaica
  • Morton Subotnick, Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros and others found the "Tape Music Center" near San Francisco
  • Raymond Scott invents the first sequencer, the "Wall of Sound"
  • 600 million records are sold in the USA
  • Buddy Holly dies at 22 in a plane crash
  • Since 1955, the US market share of the four "majors" has dropped from 78% to 44%, while the market share of independent record companies increased from 22% to 56%
  • Since 1955, the US market has increased from 213 million dollars to 603 million, and the market share of rock and roll has increased from 15.7% to 42.7%

Origins 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

Legend: Avantgarde | Music industry | Instruments | Media | Necrology | Exotic