1950s EASY-POP Songs and Singers...on the verge of Rock 'n Roll
50s TV series that featured EASY-POP Singers (Evening broadcast times listed are Eastern Time, programs aired one hour earlier in the Midwest)
All Star Review Wednesdays 8:00-9:00 (NBC) 1950-1951; Saturdays 8:00-9:00 (NBC) 1951-1953
A vaudeville-flavored program with popular comedians and singers.
American Bandstand Ninety minutes every weekday afternoon (ABC) 1957-1963
Live from Philadelphia, host Dick Clark presented guest artists and also played dozens of current hit recordings while the teenage studio audience danced.
Arthur Godfrey and His Friends Wednesdays 8:00-9:00 (CBS) 1949-57
A blend of musical numbers and relaxed comedy with friends including singers Anita Bryant, the Chordettes, Pat Boone, the McGuire Sisters, Julius LaRosa, Haleloke, Johnny Nash, LuAnn Simms, and the Mariners.
Arthur Murray Dance Party Appeared on all four networks at various times between 1950 and 1960
Dance teacher Arthur Murray and wife, Kathryn, hosted singing and dancing guest stars.
The Big Record Wednesdays 8:00-9:00 (CBS) 1957-1958
Hostess Patti Page introduced popular singers who performed their hits songs.
This top-rated variety hour featured comedians and popular singers. Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Donald O’Connor, Abbott & Costello, and Jimmy Durante hosted frequently.
The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beechnut Show Saturdays 7:30-8:00 (ABC) 1958-1960
Each week several ‘Top Forty’ recording artists performed their hit songs.
Dick Clark’s World of Talent Sundays 10:30-11:00 (ABC) 1959
A celebrity panel rated aspiring performers. Singers appearing on the series included Don Cornell, Della Reese, Alan Dale, and the Four Aces.
Ed Sullivan Show (Toast of the Town) Sundays 8:00-9:00 (CBS) 1948-1971
Nearly every popular singer and comedian appeared over twenty-three years on this syndicated newspaper columnist’s variety program including early career appearances by Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles.
George Gobel Show Saturdays 10:00-10:30 (NBC) 1954-1957; Tuesdays 8:00-9:00 (NBC) 1957-1959
Low-key comedian’s variety show included regular singers Peggy King and Anita Bryant plus John Scott Trotter’s band and the Johnny Mann Singers.
Jukebox Jury Sundays 9:30-10:30 (ABC) 1953-1954
Peter Potter played new records for a celebrity panel on this game show and queried, “Will it be a hit (bong!) or a miss (clunk!)?”
Lawrence Welk Show Saturdays 9:00-10:00 (ABC) 1955-1971
Melodic ‘Champagne Music’ hour with Alice Lon and the Lennon Sisters.
Perry Presents Wednesdays 8:00-9:00 (CBS) Summer 1959
Musical series featured Teresa Brewer, Tony Bennett, the Four Lads, Jaye P. Morgan, and the Modernaires.
Stop the Music Thurs 8:00-9:00 (ABC) 1949-52; Tues 10:30-11:00 (ABC) 1954-56
Game show host Bert Parks had members of the studio audience and home viewers identify songs by vocalists including Kay Armen, Jimmy Blaine, Betty Ann Grove, Jaye P. Morgan, and June Valli.
TV’s Top Tunes Mon/Wed/Fri 7:45-8:00 (CBS) 1957-58
Summer series featured Peggy Lee, the Fontane Sisters, Helen O’Connell, Bob Eberly, Julius LaRosa, and the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra.
Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour Tues 10:00-11:00 (NBC) 1949-1954
Each week amateur performers displayed their talents and the viewing audience was invited to vote—by postcard—for their favorite act.
Talent Scouts Tuesdays 8:30-9:00 (CBS) 1948-1958
Host Arthur Godfrey and celebrity guests introduced new talent. Aspiring singers on the series included: June Valli, Pat Boone, Johnny Nash, the McGuire Sisters, Edie Adams, and Shari Lewis.
Tonight Show (with Steve Allen) weeknights 11:30pm-1:00am (NBC) 1954-1957
Host Steve Allen featured regular singers Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, Pat Marshall, and Andy Williams.
Your Hit Parade Saturdays 10:30-11:00 (NBC) 1950-1958
The top seven most popular songs of the week were performed by regular cast: Dorothy Collins, Eileen Wilson, Snooky Lanson, Sue Bennett, Russell Arms, June Valli, and Gisele MacKenzie.
EASY-POP Music on Television in the 50s
The arrival, acceptance, and then dominance of
television in the 1950s was phenomenal. Commercial television
broadcasting, initiated in 1947 in the United States, signaled that a
new medium would influence popular music. In 1948, only New York,
Washington, and Philadelphia were networked to receive live television,
by 1949, the east and midwest were joined, and in 1951, the link was
completed to the west coast.
The growth in the purchase of
television sets was unprecedented. In 1948, fewer than 2% of US homes
had a TV set. (Brooks & Marsh, 1995, p.xv) Television became a
household staple faster than any appliance had done previously—by the
end of the decade nearly 90% of homes in the United States had a TV
set. (Croteau & Hoynes, 2001, p.54) The fifties, often called the
‘golden age of television,’ presented live drama, live comedy, live
music, and live variety offerings to an eager audience.
Sullivan’s variety show ‘Toast of the Town’ debuted in 1949 and ran in
the same 8pm EDT Sunday time slot on CBS for 23 years. Most Americans
got their first glimpse of Elvis Presley and the Beatles from this
series. Television was important to the recording industry and many
singers appeared on TV to perform their popular hit songs. They wanted to promote the sale of their records while television
producers wanted to showcase the singers to get the high ratings that
came with presenting popular performers. Audiences, even before MTV,
liked to see the singers perform the songs that were hits on the radio
Comedy/variety shows that were hosted by comedians
were very popular and often included musical performers as part of the
cast. Vaudeville comedian, Milton Berle’s ‘Texaco Star Theater’ was a
frantic and highly visual hour that garnered huge ratings. It is often
credited with spurring the sales of television sets and earning him the
label ‘Mr. Television.’ ‘Your Show of Shows’ with Sid Caesar and
Imogene Coca featured ninety-minutes of outrageous comedy sketches and
live musical production numbers every Saturday night.
In the 1950s the television networks mounted impressive musical reviews with classy production values and top musical performers. These musical tributes saluted composers, music genres, and the recording industry itself. Major advertisers were anxious to celebrate their anniversaries with lavish musical telecasts.
In 1954, film actress Betty Hutton made television history in producer Max Liebman’s lavish color musical spectacular ‘Satins and Spurs.’ It was the first full-scale musical written especially for television. The title song, Satins and Spurs, and Back Home, both written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, were released by this singer-actress on Capitol records.
In 1956, the CBS anthology ‘Ford Star Jubilee’ presented a musical adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s 1937 stage play ‘High Tor’ starring Bing Crosby, Nancy Olson, Everett Sloane, and Julie Andrews—before she became a Broadway superstar in ‘My Fair Lady.’ The 90-minute color production of ‘High Tor” was one of the first filmed productions made especially for TV. Original songs included When You’re in Love and Once Upon a Long Ago with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson and music by veteran Broadway and Hollywood tunesmith Arthur Schwartz.
Kay Starr was featured in the 1956 ‘Producer’s Showcase Production’ of ‘The Lord Don’t Play Favorites.’ In this made-for-television musical drama, she introduced two songs The Good Book and The Things I Never Had, written by Hal Stanley and Irving Taylor—both became hits for her that year.
Throughout the fifties television viewership grew and the four TV networks, ABC, CBS, Dumont, and NBC provided the only program options available. With the arrival of cable TV in the eighties and new TV networks in the nineties, audiences fragmented and the percentage of Americans watching any one individual TV program was never as high as it was in the fifties. By 2000, the top rated TV shows were considered extraordinarily successful if the ratings reached 20% of the viewing audience, by contrast ‘I Love Lucy’ ratings on CBS in the mid fifties often reached above 67% of the viewing audience, (Brooks & Marsh, 1995, p.1259) and in its early years Milton Berle’s ‘Texaco Star Theater’ on NBC exceeded 94%. (Halberstam, 1993, p.186)
Lavish Network TV Musical Celebrations during the 50s
Richard Rodgers Jubilee Show (NBC) March 4, 1951
Music tribute with Mary Martin, Celeste Holm, and Patrice Munsel.
Irving Berlin: Salute to America (NBC) September 12, 1951
Music with Irving Berlin and guests Tony Martin, Dinah Shore, and Margaret Truman.
Ford Fiftieth Anniversary Show (CBS and NBC) June 15, 1953
Variety celebration, with appearances by Marian Anderson, Eddie Fisher, Frank Sinatra, and Rudy Vallee, highlighted by a Mary Martin and Ethel Merman duet.
General Foods Anniversary Show (all 4 networks) March 28, 1954
Musical special featuring Mary Martin, Jack Benny, Ezio Pinza, John Raitt, Groucho Marx, Tony Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Yul Brynner, and Gordon MacRae.
Sunday In Town (NBC) October 10, 1954
Musical review with Judy Holiday, Steve Allen, and Dick Shawn.
Three For Tonight (CBS) June 22, 1955
Musical review with Harry Belafonte and Marge and Gower Champion.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Show (ABC) May 4 and May 11, 1957
Alan Freed’s special with Sal Mineo, Guy Mitchell, June Valli, Martha Carson, the Clovers, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and the Dell-Vikings.
Holiday In Las Vegas (NBC) November 16, 1957
Variety show with Jayne Mansfield, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Randall, and Vic Damone.
General Motors Fiftieth Anniversary Show (NBC) Nov 17, 1957
Music/variety celebration with Kirk Douglas, Cyril Ritchard, Helen Hays, Pat Boone, Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, June Allyson, and Steve Lawrence.
All Star Jazz (CBS) November 10, 1958
Music with Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, and Jane Morgan.
Accent on Love (NBC) February 28, 1958
Musical revue with Ginger Rogers, Louis Jourdan, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Marge and Gower Champion, and Jaye P. Morgan.
The Golden Age of Jazz (CBS) January 7, 1959
Music with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Gene Krupa.
The Record Years (NBC) June 28, 1959
Dick Clark’s tribute to the recording industry with guests Johnny Mathis, Fabian, the McGuire Sisters, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Fats Domino, and Stan Freberg.
Original Made-for-TV Musical Productions of the 50s
Amahl and the Night Visitors Chet Allen, Rosemary Kuhlmann (NBC) December 24, 1951
Score and libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti for the first production of this Christmas Opera.
Satins and Spurs Betty Hutton, Kevin McCarthy (NBC) September 12, 1954
Jay Livingston and Jay Evans wrote the lively score for this first TV spectacular.
Svengali and the Blonde Carol Channing, Basil Rathbone (NBC) August 22, 1955
Charles Gaynor and Alan Handley wrote the score for this spoof of DuMaurier’s classic.
Our Town Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint (NBC) September 19, 1955
Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen created this musical version of Thornton Wilder’s play that included the popular song Love and Marriage.
High Tor Bing Crosby, Julie Andrews, Nancy Olsen (CBS) March 10, 1956
With music by Arthur Schwartz and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson (based on his 1937 play) this musical fantasy, the first on film, included songs When You’re in Love and Once Upon a Long Ago.
The Lord Don’t Play Favorites Kay Starr (CBS) September 17, 1956
This musical drama with score by Hal Stanley & Irving Taylor introduced the song The Good Book.
A Bell for Adano Anna Maria Alberghetti, Barry Sullivan (CBS) June 2, 1956
Musical based on John Hersey’s novel with music by Arthur Schwartz and lyrics by Howard Dietz.
Marco Polo Alfred Drake, Doretta Morrow, Beatrice Kraft (NBC) April 14, 1956
Original musical based on themes by Rimsky-Korsakov, story co-written by Neil Simon.
The Bachelor Hal March, Jayne Mansfield, Carol Haney (NBC) July 15, 1956
Original music and lyrics by Steve Allen in this made-for-TV musical.
Ruggles of Red Gap Michael Redgrave, Jane Powell (NBC) February 3, 1957
Music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin included the song A Ride on a Rainbow.
Cinderella Julie Andrews, Edie Adams, Jon Cypher (CBS) Live Telecast March 31, 1957
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created this television musical including songs In My Own Little Corner, Ten Minutes Ago, and Do I Love You (Because You’re Beautiful).
Pinocchio Mickey Rooney, Fran Allison, Stubby Kaye (NBC) October 13, 1957
Music by Alec Wilder and lyrics by William Engvick. Songs included Listen to Your Heart.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin Van Johnson, Kay Starr (NBC) November 26, 1957
Songs by Hal Stanley and Irving Taylor adapted from classical Edward Grieg melodies.
Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates Tab Hunter, Peggy King (NBC) February 9, 1958
Music and lyrics by Hugh Martin. Cast included Olympic ice champion Dick Button.
Aladdin Cyril Ritchard, Sal Mineo, Anna Marie Alberghetti (CBS) February 21, 1958
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter—it was the last musical score Cole Porter wrote.
The Gift of the Magi Gordon MacRae, Sally Ann Howes (CBS) December 9, 1958
Music and lyrics by Richard Adler based on the O. Henry tale.
No Man Can Tame Me Gisele MacKenzie, John Raitt (CBS) February 1, 1959