In the early 1950's the American Pop Charts are dominated by the remnants of the big band era including vocalists such as Doris Day, Frankie Lane, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Nat King Cole, along with band leaders Mitch Miller, Percy Faith and others. The Rhythm & Blues Charts feature African-American artists playing to a predominately African-American audience in urban centers and the south. Cleveland, Ohio radio Disc Jockey Alan Freed is an exception with his "Moondog Show" where he spins up-tempo rhythm & blues hits, but aims his show beyond the traditional African-American audience for R&B and gains a wide audience of both white and black teenagers. Freed eventually names this cross-current of musical styles and influences - electric blues, boogie, jazz, gospel, R&B vocal groups and country - "Rock and Roll".
In the sixties rock music comes of age and dominates the popular music charts. Elvis Presley continues to score hits in the early part of the decade, but the music continues to diversify with the folk revival, the Brill Building sound, Phil Spector's wall of sound, girl groups and surf music, all impacting the early part of the decade. The Motown, Stax and Atlantic labels bring more african-american artists back to the forefront of the pop charts. By 1964 American artists are sharing the top of the charts with U.K. bands led by the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In the U.S. garage bands emerge, inspired by the British Invasion sound.
The Beatles break up in 1970, but all four members continue to impact the decade with successful solo careers. The early seventies are marked by the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison who all die at the age of 27. Pyschedelic music declines, but morphs into hard rock, progressive rock and heavy metal. Touring bands move from playing clubs and theaters, to playing sports arenas. Big time bands, many of them formed in the '60's, such as the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who, Grand Funk and Led Zeppelin travel in private jets and play to thousands in arenas and outdoor stadiums.
John Lennon is shot to death by a fan in 1980 just as he was coming back into the public eye with a new album. MTV (Music Television) is launched on 300 U.S. cable TV systems in 1981. By 1983 MTV is available on 2,000 cable systems. VH1 is launched in 1984 with a more classic rock format. The prevalance of music videos as a 24/7 marketing tool is influential in bringing numerous new bands and music styles into the mainstream, including a resurgence in heavy metal, the emergence of synthpop, new wave, rap and hip hop. The number of successful female artists, across many genres, is reflected in singles and album sales.
Alternative Rock and it's sub-genres Grunge and Pop Punk expand in popularity and ironically, explode into the mainstream during the 1990's. Major labels begin luring independent bands away from small record labels. These artists are resistant to the demands of big record companies and unwilling to change styles to reach a mass market audience. Nevertheless, many alternative bands, including REM, The Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Smiths and grunge bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and others find success with mainstream audiences.