About R&B Music

R&B, or rhythm and blues, music originated during a time of great change in the black community. As blacks migrated to urban areas and their social and economic status began to change, so did their musical tastes. Many different, yet connected styles of R&B became popular and the genre continues to have a profound impact on the music industry and society.

The phrase rhythm and blues was coined in 1949 by Jerry Wexler of Billboard Magazine to describe a number of related musical styles created by and for blacks, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. In the evolving racial climate of post-World War II America, Billboard decided R&B was a more suitable name for what had been known until then as "race music".

R&B encompasses a variety of styles including soul, Motown, funk, disco, rap, hip-hop, doo-wop, black rock 'n' roll, club blues and jump blues, according to MSN Encarta. Characteristics of R&B include soulful singing over a strong backbeat, commonalities in rhythm, bands divided into a rhythm and horn section, repetition of rhythms, verses and notes, and often complex blending of instruments.

R&B came about during a demographic shift in America that began just before WWII when large segments of the black population moved from the rural South to cities in the Midwest, Northeast and West Coast. This migration created a young, urban black audience with a growing taste for up-tempo dance music. Many in the record industry seized the opportunity by starting independently owned labels and radio stations targeting the black audience. The popularity of R&B music also helped to fuel the appetite of young white audiences for rock 'n' roll.
Early R&B centered in Atlanta, Ga. where live R&B acts were popular. In 1949, one of the first black-owned R&B radio stations, Atlanta's WERD, found success with area listeners, especially with its late-night R&B show hosted by Zenas "Daddy" Sears. Other radio stations followed suit and soon R&B artists were recording albums on both coasts.

Various styles of R&B began to emerge, including jump blues, originated by musician Louis Jordan who had hits with "G.I. Jive" and "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" in the 1940s. Club blues R&B began with pianists like Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown. This was a quiet and subdued style that featured ballads with crooner-style singing over a rhythmic piano. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, instrumental style R&B gained in popularity furthered by artists such as saxophonists Big Jay McNeely, Paul Williams and Joe Houston. Groups such as the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers and the Ravens helped form the vocal group branch of R&B that in the 1950s led to doo-wop with its emphasis on harmony and slow-tempo. With songs about rebellion and romance, doo-wop was marketed toward teenagers and dominated by groups like the Coasters and the Drifters. Also in the 1950s, artists such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard played black rock 'n' roll, an up-tempo, frantic style of music that appealed mainly to teenagers and had an enormous influence on white rock 'n' roll musicians in the future. In the 1960s, R&B continued to evolve with Motown artists like Diana Ross, The Supremes and Smokey Robinson. Southern soul R&B featured artists such as James Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. In the 1970s, Sly and the Family Stone and George Clinton helped make the funk style of R&B popular, while singers Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor topped the disco charts. In the 1980s, disco evolved into dance music and rap, led by artists like Prince, Michael and Janet Jackson, and Run-DMC.

In the mid-1990s, sampling and scratching became a part of R&B music and can be heard on urban radio stations today. Vocal groups like TLC and solo singers such as Mary J. Blige, Usher and R. Kelly continued the R&B tradition with massive commercial success. R&B in the 21st century incorporates a variety of styles including hip-hop, rap, dance and pop.

R&B music has had a strong impact on American culture for blacks and whites alike. The genre has influenced other types of music such as rock 'n' roll and also dancing, fashion, language and attitudes. As much as the black community embraced R&B music, so too did large portions of the white population, especially the youth. It is arguable, therefore, that R&B music helped to promote understanding and unity between different cultures.

Approved by Jesse Anderson