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Music programs featuring top singers were prominent on U.S. TV in the 1950s

Numerous musical TV shows graced the airwaves during the 1950s.
Numerous musical TV shows graced the airwaves during the 1950s.

When television began to emerge as an American staple in the 1950s, music programming became a key element of the medium's success.

Commercial TV broadcasting was initiated in the U.S. in 1947, although at the outset, only the New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., markets received live television, but by 1949, virtually all parts of the nation had access.

In 1948, fewer than 2 percent of U.S. homes had a TV set, but by the end of the 1950s, nearly 90 percent of U.S. homes included television. The '50s is sometimes referred to as "the golden age of television", and live drama, comedy, variety and music regularly filled the screen.

Many of the nation's popular music vocalists were featured in their own shows in the first half of the decade -- often in 15-minute segments -- but longer shows became more prevalent in prime time as the decade progressed.

In addition to some of the shows featured in this article, "Your Hit Parade" remains a significant part of American TV and music history. With its use of weekly pop music charts, the show developed into an institution that offered “an accurate, authentic tabulation of America's taste in popular music.” To read a complete report on the history of "Your Hit Parade", click here.

Although there were dozens of '50s television shows that featured prominent American singers, this column will take a look at 10 selected shows, featuring links to some interesting segments and complete shows.

  • POLLY BERGEN SHOW (NBC, 1957-58): This comedy-variety show lasted for 18 half-hour episodes in the 9 p.m. Saturday time slot. Although primarily noted for her comedy and TV game-show panel appearances, Bergen also recorded a number of singles as a singer, including a No. 67 national hit with "Come Prima" in 1962. The show's closing theme was "The Party's Over." To view the entire March 22, 1958 show, featuring Johnny Carson as the only guest star, click here.
  • ROSEMARY CLOONEY - THE LUX SHOW (NBC, 1957-58): The popular female singer-actress appeared live and in color on Thursday evenings from Sept. 1957 through June 1958. Regulars included Frank De Vol's orchestra and The Modernaires. To view the complete April 3, 1958 show, click here.
  • NAT KING COLE SHOW (NBC, 1956-57): The legendary performer -- born in Birmingham, Ala., and raised in Chicago -- was prominent as early as the 1930s, and he formed the Nat King Cole Trio in 1939. He went solo in 1950, and hosted his own TV show on Mondays (7:30-7:45 p.m.) in 1956 and on Tuesdays (10-10:30 p.m.) in 1957. For the intro to the Sept. 10, 1957, show, click here. And to view the complete Sept. 24, 1957, featuring Gogi Grant and The Dunhills, click here.
  • JANE FROMAN'S USA CANTEEN (CBS, 1952-55): The singer-actress from University City, Mo., hosted her own show -- originally called "USA Canteen" -- was a 15-minute (7:45-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays) segment, often featuring The Peter Birch Dancers and Alfredo Antonini's orchestra and originally featuring members of the armed forces. To hear the song "Get Happy", click here. And to hear "It's A Most Unusual Day", click here.
  • GEORGIA GIBBS MILLION RECORD SHOW (NBC, 1957): The songstress from Worcester, Mass., was the featured vocalist on many radio and TV shows, and her versatility ranged from jazz to pop. She went solo in 1947, and she had her own show on Mondays (7:30-7:45 p.m.). To hear her sing a medley of her million sellers, click here.
  • FRANKIE LAINE TIME (CBS, 1955-56): The Chicago-born vocalist began his career with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers in the mid-1940s, and he began a long solo career in 1947. His show was an 8 to 9 p.m. Wednesday feature, and to hear him sing "That's My Desire", click here. And to view a complete show from August 1955, click here.
  • GUY MITCHELL SHOW (ABC, 1957-58): The former Big Band singer from Detroit had big-time recording success throughout the '50s, and he had his own half-hour variety show from 8 to 9 p.m. Mondays. The black-and-white show only lasted one season, from Oct. 7, 1957 to Jan. 13, 1958. To view a show intro, click here. And to hear him sing "Sparrow In The Treetop" (along with The Hi-Los), click here.
  • DINAH SHORE SHOW (NBC, 1951-57) and DINAH SHORE CHEVY SHOW (NBC, 1957-62): After hosting a popular show for six years on Thursday evenings, she hosted the Dinah Shore Chevy Show on Sunday nights for the next five seasons. To see an intro for a 1957 show, click here. And to see a clip of a show featuring Bobby Darin, click here.
  • FRANK SINATRA SHOW (CBS, 1950-52, ABC 1957-58): The legendary entertainer had an 8 to 9 p.m. show on CBS in the early '50s and a 9 to 9:30 p.m. show on ABC in 1957-1958. To view a Jan. 1, 1952 clip that includes Louis Armstrong singing "Lonesome Man Blues", click here. For a 1957 clip featuring Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bing Crosby, click here. And to see an entire May 12, 1960 special featuring the first TV appearance by Elvis Presley after his return from the military, click here.
  • KATE SMITH EVENING HOUR (NBC 1951-54): Known as The First Lady Of Radio and The Songbird Of The South, the native of Greenville, Va., began her radio singing career in 1930. Her first television show was a daytime feature in 1960, and she later hosted The Evening Hour from 8 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. To hear Kate sing "It's A Lovely Day Today" in 1951, click here ... and to hear her vocalize "Dream A Little Dream of Me" in 1950, click here.

[You may subscribe to Bill Herald's oldies music columns -- free of charge -- by clicking on "subscribe" near the top of the column, after which you will receive e-mail notification each time a new item is published].

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