With the recent death of Little Richard, one of the defining artists of the 1950s, it may seem like most of the major pop stars of the ’50s have taken their final bows. Fortunately, many top stars from that decade are still with us. Here are 17 prime examples – artists who didn’t just start out in the ’50s, but were among that decade’s top stars.
Tony Bennett: Bennett landed his first and biggest hit, “Because of You,” in 1951. Bennett has landed two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 in the past 10 years, Duets II in 2011 and Cheek to Cheek, a collab with Lady Gaga, in 2014. Bennett has amassed 18 Grammys, including record of the year for 1962’s exquisite “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and album of the year for 1994’s MTV Unplugged. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2001 and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2005. Bennett is 93.
Johnny Mathis: The balladeer landed his first hit, “Wonderful! Wonderful!,” in 1957. He had several other big hits that year, including “It’s Not for Me to Say,” “Chances Are” and “The Twelfth of Never.” He topped the Hot 100 in 1978 with “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” a soulful collab with Deniece Williams. Mathis landed two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 – Johnny’s Greatest Hits in 1958 and Heavenly in 1959. Mathis has yet to win a Grammy in competition (despite five nods), but the Recording Academy voted him a lifetime achievement award in 2003. Mathis is 84.
Harry Belafonte: The artist and activist landed his first hit, “Gomen Nasai (Forgive Me),” in 1953. He landed his biggest hit, “Banana Boat (Day-O),” in 1957. Belafonte’s 1956 album Belafonte was No. 1 on the first weekly Billboard 200 chart. His follow-up, Calypso, made him the first artist to land two No. 1 albums on that chart. Belafonte was one of the veteran artists on USA for Africa‘s “We Are the World,” a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 in 1985. Four years later, Belafonte received a Kennedy Center Honor. A two-time Grammy winner in the folk field, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2000. Belafonte is 93.
Don Everly: Don and his younger brother Phil Everly landed their first two hits, “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie,” in 1957. They topped the Hot 100 twice, with “Bird Dog” (1958) and “Cathy’s Clown” (1960). The Everly Brothers were in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1986. They were voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. The Everly Brothers never won a Grammy in competition – which is a travesty — but they received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1997. Don Everly is 83.
Pat Boone: Boone landed his first hit, “Two Hearts,” in 1955. He had his biggest hit, the mellifluous “Love Letters in the Sand,” in 1957. He had one No. 1 hit in the Hot 100 era, with “Moody River” in 1961. Boone has yet to win a Grammy (despite six nods, all for sacred or inspirational recordings). His daughter, Debby Boone, has had better luck at the Grammys, with three wins. Pat Boone is 85.
Paul Anka: Anka was not yet 16 when he landed his first hit, “Diana,” in 1957. He had two No. 1 hits on the Hot 100, “Lonely Boy” in 1959 and the all-grown-up “(You’re) Having My Baby” in 1974. Anka, who wrote many of his own hits as well as hits for other artists such as “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones, was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1993. He was voted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1980. Anka is 78.
Connie Francis: Francis landed her first big hit, “Who’s Sorry Now,” in 1958. In 1962, she became the first female solo artist in Hot 100 history to amass three No. 1 hits. (She was the only one until Cher equaled the feat in March 1974.) Francis topped that chart with “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” (1960), “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” (also 1960) and “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” (1962). Francis is 82.
Frankie Avalon: Who was the first solo artist to land two No. 1 hits on the Hot 100? That would be Avalon, who topped that chart in March 1959 with the dreamy “Venus” and again that December with “Why.” Avalon had landed his first hit, “DeDe Dinah,” in 1958. He gained pop culture immortality by singing “Beauty School Dropout” in the 1978 film Grease. The track appeared on the soundtrack album, which topped the Billboard 200 for 12 weeks and received a Grammy nomination for album of the year. Avalon is 80.
Jerry Lee Lewis: Lewis landed his first two hits, “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” in 1957. Lewis was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1986. Early the following year, he won a Grammy, alongside such other rock pioneers as Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, for best spoken word recording for Interviews From the Class of ’55 Recording Sessions. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2005. Dennis Quaid played Lewis in the 1989 biopic Great Balls of Fire. Lewis is 84.
Dion: Dion and the Belmonts landed their first hit, “I Wonder Why,” in 1958. Dion landed his first solo hit, “Lonely Teenager,” in 1960. His 1961 solo smash, “Runaround Sue,” topped the Hot 100. Dion has a new studio album of all new material, Blues with Friends, due June 5, with such big-name guests as Paul Simon, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen. Dion was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He is 80.
Lloyd Price: Price landed his first hit, “Just Because,” in 1957. His biggest hit, “Stagger Lee,” topped the Hot 100 for four weeks in 1959. Price was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Price is 87.
Ed Ames: Ames is the last survivor of The Ames Brothers, a brother quartet that landed its first hit, “A Tree in the Meadow,” in 1948. The brothers’ biggest hits, all in the early ’50s, were “Rag Mop,” “Sentimental Me” and “You You You.” As a solo artist, Ames reached the top 10 on the Hot 100 in 1967 with “My Cup Runneth Over.” Ames may be even more famous for playing Mingo on the 1960s TV series Daniel Boone, and, especially, for a legendary moment in late-night television. In 1965, he appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The resulting “tomahawk toss” showed Ames’ skill with a tomahawk and Carson’s unmatched wit and timing. Ames, a three-time Grammy nominee, is 92.
Jaye P. Morgan: The singer/actress landed her first and biggest hit, “That’s All I Want From You,” in 1954. She also recorded hit duets with Perry Como and Eddy Arnold. But it’s fair to say she’s better known for her second career as a TV personality. From 1976-78, she was a regular on The Gong Show, a critically panned but trend-setting game/variety show. (There was always crap on TV, but The Gong Show gleefully took it to a new low.) Morgan is 88.
Jimmie Rodgers: Rodgers (not to be confused with the country pioneer of the same name) scored his first and biggest hit with “Honeycomb” in 1957. His follow-up, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” was also a giant hit. His biggest hit following the launch of the Hot 100 in 1958 was “Are You Really Mine” (No. 10 that September). Rodgers, a two- time Grammy nominee, is 86.
Phyllis McGuire: McGuire is the last survivor of The McGuire Sisters, a popular sister trio which landed their first hit, “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight,” in 1954. Their biggest hits were “Sincerely” (1955) and “Sugartime” (1958). McGuire made the Hot 100 on her own in 1964 with a cover version of the 1942 pop standard “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You.” McGuire is 89.
Ray Anthony: Anthony landed his first hit, “A Dreamer’s Holiday,” in the closing weeks of 1949. His biggest hits included “At Last” (1952), which went on to be immortalized by Etta James, and “Dragnet” (1953), the theme from the iconic TV series starring Jack Webb. Anthony’s last major hit was a cover of Henry Mancini‘s “Peter Gunn,” which made the top 10 on the Hot 100 in 1959. Anthony, a two-time Grammy nominee, is 98.
Vera Lynn: Lynn, England’s most popular female singer during World War II, landed her first U.S. hit in 1948 with “You Can’t Be True Dear.” Her biggest hit was “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” in 1952. Notably, she is currently on pace to set the record this week for the oldest artist to ever score a top 40 hit in her home country of the U.K., with her classic 1943 ballad “We’ll Meet Again.” Lynn is 103.