History of Record Labels and the Music Industry: 1950s
by Alex Cosper

Introduction 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

see also American Radio History


- In the early 1950s the big five major record labels were Columbia, RCA Victor, Decca, Capitol and Mercury. Capitol had risen to being the fourth biggest label in 1955 when EMI, the biggest UK record operation, bought Capitol for $8.5 million. From 1954-1958 independent labels issuing rock and roll and r&b recordings dominated the charts as the market share for major labels fell dramatically.

- Les Paul and Mary Ford introduced an early form of multi-track recording based on overdubs with their cover of "How High the Moon."

- Texas record store owner Randy Wood launched Dot Records in 1951. Alabama radio personality Sam Phillips formed Sun Records in 1952. The following year he signed Elvis Presley, who was signed to RCA in 1956 after a string of hits on Sun.

- Epic Records was launched in 1953 as a CBS subsidiary for jazz and classical music.

- Paramount Pictures launched ABC Records in 1955. Many of the hit acts on the label were launched through the ABC-TV show American Bandstand as host Dick Clark consulted the label.

- In 1955 Liberty Records was founded by Al Bennett, Sy Waronker, Ted Keep and Chipmunks cartoon creator David Seville. A few years later Liberty acquired Pacific Records because of its successful jazz catalogue.

- Rock and roll music, a blending of r&b and country, and a term coined a year earlier by Cleveland DJ Alan Freed, rose to popularity as the song "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets on Decca Records became the first such hit to top the Billboard charts.

- Roulette Records was formed in 1956 by Morris Levy and Phil Khals.

- Atlantic Records launched subsidiary label Atco in 1957. Within a few years the label had its first number one single, which was "Mack The Knife" by Bobby Darin, produced by Ahmet Ertegun.

- The Sony Company introduced the first pocket size transistor radio in 1957, allowing listeners to take music with them wherever they wanted to go. The first actual transistor radio was invented three years earlier by the American Regency Company, based on transistor technology invented by Bell Labs in 1948.

- Jack Warner, a founder of the Warner Brothers motion picture company, launched Warner Brothers Records in 1958.

- Monument Records was established in 1958 by Fred Foster. The label went on to sign Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison.

- Scepter Records was launched in 1959 by Florence Greenberg to release records by the Shirelles.

- Chris Blackwell formed Island Records in 1959 in Jamaica as an outlet for reggae music. He relocated his operations to the UK three years later.

- Berry Gordy, a Ford Motor Company assembly line worker, formed Motown Records in Detroit with an $800 family loan.

Introduction 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s

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