HYMNS of the 1950s
The United States in the 1950s experienced economic growth – with an increase in manufacturing and home construction amongst a post-World War II economic boom. The Cold War and its associated conflicts helped create a politically conservative climate in the country. Fear of communism caused public Congressional hearings in both houses of Congress while anti-communism was the prevailing sentiment in the US. Conformity and conservatism characterized the social norms of the time.
Major US events during the 1950s included: the Korean War (1950–1953); the 1952 election of Second World War hero and retired Army General, Dwight D. Eisenhower as President and his subsequent re-election in 1956; the Red Scare and anti-communist concerns of the McCarthy-era; and the US reaction to the 1957 launch by the Soviet Union of the Sputnik satellite, a major milestone in the Cold War.
The Cold War (1945–1991) was the continuing state of political conflict, military tension, and economic competition between the Soviet Union and its satellite states, and the powers of the Western world, led by the United States. Although the primary participants’ military forces never officially clashed directly, they expressed the conflict through military coalitions, strategic conventional force deployments, a nuclear arms race, espionage, proxy wars, propaganda, and technological competition, e.g., the space race.
The Korean War, which lasted from June 25, 1950 until the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953, started as a civil war between communist North Korea and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The United States, acting on behalf of the United Nations, sought to repel the North Korean invasion.
The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 missing in action (MIA) or prisoner of war (POW). Estimates place Korean and Chinese casualties at 1,000,000–1,400,000 dead or wounded, and 140,000 MIA or POW.
Capitalism and Consumerism
There was a large-scale expansion of the middle class in the 1950s. Unions were strong, comprising almost half the American work force. Politics tended to be moderate, with extremist positions being out of favor.
Consumerism became a key component of Western society. People bought big houses in the new suburbs and bought new time-saving household appliances. This buying trend was influenced by many American cultural and economic aspects such as advertising; television; cars; new offerings from banks (loans and credit); immediately being able to have what one wanted; and achieving a perceived better life.
The US federal government authorized the Interstate Highway Act in June 1956, and construction had begun by the fall of that same year. The originally planned set of highways took decades to complete.
McCarthyism… named for the suspicions of Senator Joseph McCarthy and those who agreed with him… became a widespread social and cultural phenomenon that affected all levels of society and was the source of a great deal of debate and conflict in the United States. Investigating private citizens for alleged communist affiliations in government, private-industry and in the media produced widespread fear and destroyed the lives of many innocent American citizens.
Civil Rights Movement
The civil rights movement began in earnest, with the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954, which opened the door to the beginnings of the right for all Americans to an equal and fair education regardless of race, creed or religion. During this time, racial segregation was still present in the US and other countries.
Harry S. Truman served as president, filling the office after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt and then winning a term of his own, through 1952. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a 5-star general, finished out the decade as president, serving his two terms until 1961.
Science and Technology
The Miller–Urey experiment showed in 1953 that under simulated conditions resembling those thought to be possible to have existed shortly after Earth was first created, many of the basic organic molecules that form the building blocks of life are able to spontaneously form.
NASA was organized.
Automobiles became much more available, after the low production runs in the Depression and World War. Styles became flashier. Boxy and conservative in the first half of the decade, they became lower, longer, wider, and sleeker. Tail fins, chrome, and multicolor paint jobs characterized the late 1950s. It was the beginning of the end for the small auto manufacturers, which were crippled by the Ford-GM price war of 1953–1954. Studebaker went under, the others merged into American Motors, whose Rambler chugged into the 1960s.
Popular Culture and Mass Media
The popularity of television skyrocketed, particularly in the US, where 77% of households purchased their first TV set during the decade.
Disneyland opened in July 1955.
The social mores about sex were particularly restrictive, characterized by strong taboos and a nervous attitude for “prudish conformity”. The social mores of the decade were marked by overall conservatism and conformity. Yet, Hugh Hefner launched Playboy magazine in 1953.
There was a resurgence of evangelical Christianity including the National Association of Evangelicals, the American Council of Christian Churches, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (1950) and the Campus Crusade for Christ (1951). Christianity Today was first published in 1956. 1956 also marked the beginning of Bethany Fellowship, a small press that grew to be a leading evangelical press.
The 1950s were a time of fashion evolution. At the beginning of the decade, fitted blouses and jackets with rounded shoulders and small, round collars were very popular. Narrow pant legs and capris became increasingly popular during this time, often worn with flats, ballet-inspired shoes, and Keds/Converse type sneakers. Thick, heavy heels were popular for low shoes. Circle skirts (like the classic poodle skirt) were very popular. They were often hand decorated with various patterns or beads to make them unique and worn over petticoats. Early 1950s women wore small hats over hair cut short, à la Audrey Hepburn.
As the 1950s progressed, so too did fashion, until, by the end of the 1950s, the Jackie Kennedy look was in style.
Theater and Musicals
Musicals were an important and popular component to the American theater scene in the 1950s. During the 1950s several Rodgers and Hammerstein musical shows were popular on Broadway in Manhattan, notably Carousel, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. The team of Lerner and Loewe created two popular Broadway musicals during the 1950s: Paint Your Wagon and My Fair Lady. Other popular musicals of the 1950s included: Guys and Dolls, Peter Pan, The Music Man, and West Side Story among others.
With television’s growing popularity, there was a decline in movie revenues. Hollywood was prompted to seek ways to draw audiences back to the theaters. New film techniques were developed (Cinemascope, VistaVision, Cinerama, and 3-D film).
The 1950s saw the growth of sci-fi films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The War of the Worlds (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and The Blob (1958).
Teen films became popular; movies like The Wild One (1953), Blackboard Jungle (1955), and Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
Musicals were popular; films like Elvis Presley’s movies and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and Guys and Dolls (1955).
Walt Disney Studios made many family films during the 1950s, such as: Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Lady and the Tramp (1955), 3 Davy Crockett films (1955), Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), and Sleeping Beauty (1959).
Some of the more popular movie stars of the 1950s were Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, James Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Bing Crosby, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman.
Comic book audiences grew during and after World War II. Charles Schultz’s Peanuts, appeared for the first time in 1950 in seven US newspapers. This and comic strips such as Hi & Lois and Dennis the Menace marked a revival of humor strips, a genre that had largely disappeared in the previous decade. Caped crime-fighters and superheroes declined in comic-strip popularity.
Western comics were fueled by the popularity of television westerns. Dell Comics produced comics based on Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, The Lone Ranger, and Gene Autry, while Fawcett published Allan Lane, Monte Hale, Gabby Hayes, Lash LaRue, Tex Ritter, and Tom Mix comics. DC published several western titles, while Marvel put out fifty different titles, including The Rawhide Kid, The Arizona Kid, Kid Colt Outlaw, and The Ringo Kid.
Science fiction comics were published in abundance.
Superhero comics during the 1950s, though not as popular as the previous decade (or the next), were still abundant. Some of the titles DC Comics published included Superman, Superboy, Batman and others. Timely Comics, the 1940s predecessor of Marvel Comics, had million-selling titles that featured the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America.
Sales of television sets boomed in the 1950s.
Sitcoms offered a romanticized view of middle class American life with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952–1966), Father Knows Best (1954–1960), and The Donna Reed Show (1958–1966) exemplifying the genre. Emmy-winning comedy I Love Lucy (1951–1960) starred husband and wife Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball and enjoyed such popularity that some businesses closed early on Monday nights in order to allow employees to hurry home for the show. The Honeymooners (1955–1956) followed bus driver Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and his sewer-working sidekick Ed Norton (Art Carney) while archetypal suburban life was portrayed in Leave It to Beaver (1957–1963), purportedly the first sitcom to be told from a child’s point of view and the first to strike a blow for television realism by displaying a toilet in an early episode. Genre series were popular with Dragnet (1952) representing police drama.
But Musical and Variety programs distinguished the decade for adult viewers.
Westerns quickly became a staple of 1950s TV entertainment. Notable TV Westerns included: The Gene Autry Show, The Roy Rogers Show, Gunsmoke, Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, The Rifleman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Have Gun – Will Travel, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Cisco Kid, Bonanza, The Virginian, Wagon Train, Annie Oakley, The Big Valley, Maverick, The High Chaparral, and many others.
Children’s programs included Lassie (1954–1973), Adventures of Superman (1952), The Mickey Mouse Club (1955), and Disneyland (1955). Bozo the Clown enjoyed widespread franchising in early television, making him the best-known clown character in the United States. Captain Kangaroo (1955) and Romper Room were aimed at pre-schoolers. Howdy Doody (1947–1960) was a pioneer in early color production during the period.
Quiz and panel shows included The $64,000 Question, What’s My Line?, I’ve Got a Secret, The Price Is Right, Beat the Clock, Truth or Consequences, Queen for a Day, and Name That Tune. The quiz show scandals of the period rocked the nation and were the result of the revelation that contestants were secretly given assistance by the producers to arrange the outcome of a supposedly fair competition.
Popular toys of the period included the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee, both introduced in 1957. Kids got around on Schwinn bicycles and Radio Flyer wagons. Mattel‘s adult-bodied fashion doll, Barbie, was first produced in 1959. But boys wanted Daisy BB guns, Lincoln Logs, and miniature Matchbox vehicles. In 1955, Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier saw the production of ‘coonskin caps’ and other frontier-themed toys. View-Masters, Silly Putty, and Slinky were bestsellers. Mr. Potato Head, a toy of plastic face parts that could be stuck into a potato, was the first toy to be advertised on network television, and in its first year of production (1952) made over $4 million.
Popular music and Country music in the early 1950s featured vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Bill Monroe, Eddy Arnold, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Jimmy Durante, Eddie Fisher, Pearl Bailey, Jim Reeves, Dinah Shore, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tennessee Ernie Ford, Loretta Lynn, Chet Atkins, Nat King Cole, and vocal groups like The Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, The Four Lads, The Four Aces, The Chordettes, The Jordanaires, and The Ames Brothers.
Jazz stars in the 1950s who came into prominence in their genres called Bebop, Hard bop, Cool jazz and the Blues, included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and Billie Holiday.
Rock-n-Roll and Electric blues emerged in the mid-1950s as the teen music of choice with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, James Brown, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, Connie Francis, Johnny Mathis, Pat Boone, and Ricky Nelson being notable exponents. Elvis Presley was the musical superstar of the period with rock, rockabilly, gospel, and romantic ballads being his signatures. Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Johnny Horton, and Marty Robbins were Rockabilly musicians.
Doo-wop was another popular genre at the time. Popular Doo Wop and Rock-n-Roll bands of the mid-to-late 1950s include The Platters, The Flamingos, The Dells, The Silhouettes, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Del-Vikings and Dion and the Belmonts.
While the 1950s may have been among the best musically, church music lagged far behind. Although, what we would know today as “church choruses” began to make their appearance. It was a decade in which hymn-writers and singing congregations were evidently more interested in other things…
The 1950s are often looked to as a decade of relative stability in our culture and in our churches; a time many wish we could go back to. But, in that decade, there were only a few hymns written that we still sing. Maybe one of these songs is your favorite:
1950… I Know Who Holds Tomorrow; It Is No Secret
1952… Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary
1955… He Will Pilot Me; What a Day That Will Be
1956… How Long Has It Been?; I’ll Meet You in the Morning
1957… Jesus Is Coming Again
1958… The Circuit-Riding Preacher; The Savior Is Waiting;
Surely Goodness and Mercy; Until Then; Ten Thousand Angels
1959… His Name Is Wonderful; Fill My Cup, Lord