Entertainment » The History of Rhythm and Blues
The History of Rhythm and Blues
Rhythm and blues, which is more commonly referred to as "R&B", is a general term used to describe several styles of music produced by African-American musicians. The original production of R&B was intended mainly for African-American audiences, but captivates generations of all races and backgrounds, all over the world.
The phrase, "rhythm and blues" came into existence during the 1940's as an alternative to the term race music
, which was considered offensive. By the 70s, the acronym "R&B" was used almost exclusively to categorize this form of popular music, and was eventually used as a blanket term to denote other forms of Black music such as soul and funk.
The original R&B big-timers were small groups that often added jazz, gospel and blues elements to their songs. Their music was strongly influenced by jazz and "jump music", as well as Black gospel and bebop.
"The presence of a strong dance rhythm distinguished the work of R&B artists from the styles played by blues and jazz musicians. Rhythm and blues also had a distinctly urban style, reflecting the desire of many young African-Americans to distance themselves from the rural associations of the traditional blues. Successful performers emerging from this tradition included the saxophonist and band leader Louis Jordan and "blues shouters" such as Big Joe Turner, La Vern Baker, Ruth Brown, Big Mama Thornton, and Wynonie Harris."1
During the 1950's, classic R&B got its label while crossing boundaries with other genres such as jazz and rock and roll. This was a strong, rhythmic style that bled over into traditional blues, and began to take shape as it surfaced out of New Orleans. Men like Professor Longhair made famous a rolling piano style that helped define the sounds of early tunes.
Later, singers like Fats Domino with hits "Blueberry Hill" and "Ain't That a Shame", became the names and faces synonymous with rhythm and blues. Other artists who popularized the Louisiana flavor of R&B included Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, and The Neville Brothers.
"One of the most important features of R&B was the development of groups harmonizing in a style that came to be known as "doo-wop" - Sonny Til and the Orioles led the way, enjoying a nationwide R&B hit with "It's Too Soon To Know" in 1948. As rock 'n' roll became popular during the 1950's - largely the result of white singers covering songs by R&B performers - little distinction was made between rock 'n' roll and R&B. At this point, leading African-American R&B performers such as Chuck Berry and Fats Domino were considered rock 'n' roll stars, sharing the same niche as white musicians such as Bill Haley and Elvis Presley.
With the emergence of the Motown phenomenon and the Memphis soul sound during the 1960's (music exemplified by the The Supremes, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and other soul groups and singers), however, it was once again possible to distinguish a uniquely African-American music style by calling it R&B. That distinction continues to the made, even though many African-American R&B stars have enjoyed enormous success with general rock 'n' roll audiences. The 1960's, '70's, and 80's also saw the development of new styles of R&B, including funk and disco.2
During the 80s, the term R&B defined a style of contemporary African-American music that combined elements of soul, funk, and pop-music, which originated after the 80s disco themes played out. In the late 80s, Hip-hop and Rap became more defined and many songs included samplings of classic R&B.
Michael Jackson's Thriller (1982), which became the best-selling album of all-time worldwide, buried remnants of the disco-era and had significant influence on today's contemporary R&B music.
Other singers and groups such as Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross, Prince, and New Edition, began to rule the airwaves and became immediate crossovers. Female R&B singers like Gladys Knight, Melba Moore, and Whitney Houston, who also helped shaped 80s R&B culture, gained more popularity as the music transitioned into the 90s.
In the 90s, R&B crooners like Keith Sweat, Levert, Guy, Jodeci, and BellBivDeVoe, took R&B love songs to another dimension. Along with these artists, others such as Mariah Carey, Brian McKnight, TLC, R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, and Boyz II Men, repopularized classic-soul and vocal harmony.
As a result of this diverse genre of music, R&B spawned subgenres such as New Jack Swing, Quiet Storm, Hip-hop Soul, and Neo-Soul.
R&B music is ever-changing and will continue to be a popular form of expression within African-American culture, and Black communities across the diaspora. Whether it's Rap, Reggaeton, or European dance music, R&B influenced it all, and new groups, new artists, and subgenres will continue to be born.