Evolution of K-pop Series – 1950’s and 1960’s

August 15, 2019



Tomorrow (5 March 2015) is the Jeongwol Daeboreum (Great Full Moon Festival) in South Korea.  Wishing you a happy Jeongwol Daeboreum!  If you wish to know about the rituals and celebration events related to Jeongwol Daeboreum, you can read my blog post dated 2 March 2015.

In this blog post, I will continue with the Evolution of K-pop Series and talk about the K-pop in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This period was heavily influenced by Western pop music and some Korean singers who performed well in Western pop music even went overseas to give shows.


In the 1950’s, after the Korean War, a large number of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and American pop music was introduced to South Korea through various channels.  For example, superstars like Nat King Cole, Marilyn Monroe and Louis Armstrong held shows in South Korea for the U.S. army.  In 1957, the U.S. troops began their radio service, American Forces Korea Network, and in 1959, television service followed.   Open auditions were also held to recruit musicians to perform at the U.S. army clubs.  Since South Korea was impoverished after the Korean War, skilled Korean singers regarded performing for the U.S. troops as a good means to earn money.  The shows at the U.S. army clubs became so popular that there were 264 clubs at one point.  Earnings by Korean artists at these shows reached as much as US$1.2 million a year, which was almost equivalent to the total value of all South Korean exports at that time. The performance at U.S. army clubs provided an opportunity for Korean artists to gain exposure to Western pop music like country, rhythm and blues, and rock ‘n’ roll and this paved the way of assimilating the Western pop music into the creation of Korean pop music.


In the late 1950’s, some Korean musicians who performed for the U.S. army in South Korea went overseas to give shows.  For example, in 1959, the Kim Sisters went to Las Vegas and became the first Korean artist to release an album in the U.S. pop market.  The cover of “Charlie Brown” sung by the Kim Sisters reached No.7 on the Billboard Single Chart.  The Kim Sisters also appeared on TV programmes and radio programmes and held tours in the U.S. and Europe.  In fact, the Kim Sisters appeared 25 times on The Ed Sullivan Show (a popular variety show in the U.S.A.) which was more than other American stars like Patti Page and Louis Armstrong (who appeared 18 times each). Another Korean singer, Patti Kim, performed in Las Vegas, Tokyo and Southeast Asia.


You can appreciate the singing and performing skills of the Kim Sisters and Patti Kim by clicking the links below:


“Charlie Brown” sung by Kim Sisters

Kim Sisters performing in The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960

“Yesterday (Korean/English version)” sung by Patti Kim


In the 1960’s, the Korean artists who previously performed for the U.S. army clubs reached out to the Korean public, e.g., Shin Joong-hyun, Pearl Sisters and Patti Kim. In the mid-1960’s, due to the influence of the legendary British group, The Beatles, there was rise of “group sound” in South Korea, for example, the Add4 and the Key Boys.  The Add4 was Korea’s first rock group formed by Shin Joong-hyun in 1962 and produced Korea’s first rock song, “The Woman in the Rain”(빗속의女人)which is a form of light rock reminiscent of the early Beatles.   Shin Joong-hyun was so instrumental in the development of Korean rock music that he is regarded as the “godfather of Korean rock” in South Korea.


You can hear the music of the Add4 and the Key Boys by clicking the links below:

“The Woman in the Rain” (빗속의女人)sung by the Add4

“My Love is Distant” (멀어져간 사랑) sung by the Key Boys


On the other hand, Shin Joong-hyun sponsored other Korean artists and composed songs for them.  For example, the hit light pop songs, Nima (님아 – Darling) and Keopi Han Jan (커피한잔 – A Cup of Coffee) sung by Pearl Sisters were composed by Shin Joong-hyun.  The Pearl Sisters also became a new urban culture icon, for example,  drinking coffee and (preceding Girls’ Generation by more than three decades) making their exposed legs something of a trademark.


You can hear the hit songs of the Pearl Sisters by clicking the links below:

Nima (님아 – Darling)

Keopi Han Jan (커피한잔 – A Cup of Coffee)


During this period, with the rise of Western pop music and Korean rock music, trot became less popular in South Korea.  However, trot singers like Lee Mi-ja still managed to attract a certain level of popularity. You can hear one of the hit songs of Lee Mi-ja, “Lady Dongbaek” (동백아가씨), by watching this video.


In sum, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, Western pop music, Korean rock music and trot co-existed in South Korea.  In the next blog post, we will explore the 1970’s and 1980’s in which the authoritarian government of Park Chung-hee became a dominant influence in the evolution of K-pop.


Related Blog Posts:

“Evolution of K-pop Series – An overview” dated 25 February 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – Birth of K-pop to 1940’s” dated 27 February 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 1970’s to 1980’s” dated 6 March 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 1990’s (Rise of Modern K-pop) dated 9 March 2015

“Evolution of K-pop Series – 2000’s and beyond” dated 11 March 2015



John Lie, K-pop: popular music, cultural amnesia and economic innovation in South Korea, Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2015

Daniel Tudor著, 胡菀如譯,《韓國: 撼動世界的嗆泡菜》,台北市: 聯經出版事業股份有限公司,2013年版, 267-269頁

John Lie, “What is the K in K-pop? South Korean Popular Music, the Culture Industry and National Identity”, Korea Observer, Vol. 43, No.3, Autumn 2012, pp.339-363

Korean Culture and Information Service, K-pop: A new force in pop music, Republic of Korea, 2011

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