History of Rhythm & Blues (2022)

“I became the band leader at the Club Alabam [Los Angeles]. I could see the music that was to be named rhythm and blues, taking shape. The blues and jazz elements were coming together.”

Johnny Otis

Rhythm and blues is a form of Black dance music that has its origins in the post-World War II era (1939–1945); the term itself is attributed to Jerry Wexler, a writer for Billboard, who coined it in 1949 for the magazine’s Black music chart to replace the term “Race Music” (a term in use since 1920). Rhythm and blues performers encompass hybrid jazz/blues combos, trios, and vocal harmony groups to blues shouters and gospel-inflected solo singers.

Context and History

Rhythm and Blues is a by-product of the World War II migration of southern Blacks to major urban centers in the North and on the East and West Coasts. An estimated five million African Americans abandoned their jobs as sharecroppers, tenant farmers, domestics, and general laborers, anticipating better economic and educational opportunities and an escape from racial oppression. They found high-paying jobs in wartime industries, but discriminatory housing practices led to the growth of segregated urban communities. African Americans established a dynamic entertainment district in every major city where they settled, transforming rural traditions into urban forms of expression. These vibrant styles captured the spirit, pulse, and tempo of the city, and often incorporated new technologies such as electric instruments and amplification.

(Video) Cradle of Rhythm and Blues (Record Row TV Documentary)

Combos

Working together in cities, blues singers and jazz musicians created a new musical genre–rhythm and blues. Former swing band members reduced the 12–16-member ensemble to a seven- or eight-piece group consisting of rhythm section, alto and tenor sax, and trumpet. Jazz musician Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five (that featured Jordan on vocals) provided the model for this rhythm and blues combo style heard in “Caldonia” (1945). These combos, popular from the1940s through the early-1950s, retained the boogie-woogie foundation, the shuffle beat, and the riffing horn patterns from swing. Notable instrumental combos include those led by saxophonists Paul Williams, Big Jay McNeely, Harold Singer, and Wild Bill Moore. The rockin’ style of instrumental combos, heard in “The Deacon’s Hop” (1948) by Big Jay McNeely and “We’re Gonna Rock, We’re Gonna Roll” (1948) by Wild Bill Moore established the foundation for “rock ‘n’ roll.” Rhythm and blues combos often featured blues singers such as Wynonie Harris, Mabel Scott, Amos Milburn, and Big Joe Turner, who moaned and shouted the blues in ways that reflected a range of feelings and emotions. The vocals of Etta James, Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown (“Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” 1953) and LaVern Baker often conveyed a gospel flavor.

Trios

Jazz pianist Nat “King” Cole pioneered the trio style, consisting of piano/organ, bass, and guitar. Performed in small clubs and hotel lounges, this music provided a background for conversations, although patrons in African American clubs danced as well. Trios later added drums and other percussion. In addition to Cole, the trio style was popularized by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, pianists Charles Brown, Ivory Joe Hunter McDuff, Shirley Scott, Jimmy McGriff, and Richard “Groove” Holmes. Individual trios had signature styles that mirrored their training in jazz, pop and/or blues, as heard in “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (1943) by Nat “King” Cole and “Drifting Blues” (1946) by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers featuring Charles Brown.

(Video) Unsung~ The History of Rhythm and Blues Music

Vocal Harmony Groups

“All the girls liked vocal groups. If you didn’t sing in a vocal group, you didn’t get no girls. The girls used to sit around on the corner and watch these guys sing these love ballads.”

Albert “Diz” RussellMember of the Orioles

Vocal harmony groups performed in the 1930s and ’40s with jazz bands and as independent groups. Pioneers like the Mills Brothers (“Paper Doll,” 1942), Delta Rhythm Boys (“Certainly Lord,” 1953), Ink Spots, and the Charioteers featured smooth harmonies based on barbershop, jazz, and sacred music. These groups, as well as the Ravens (“Old Man River,” 1947), established the model for the 1950s teenage a cappella groups that popularized the vocal harmony style on inner city street corners and the stoops of crowded apartment buildings as well as in parks and school gyms. Many of these “bird” groups (e.g., Swallows, Penguins, etc.), sang in a romantic style emulating the Orioles (“It’s Too Soon to Know,” 1948), who began recording in the late 1940s. Although they primarily sang a cappella, producers added sparse instrumentation, including guitar and drums played with brushes, to their commercial recordings. The Spaniels and the Moonglows added a rhythmic foundation to the “romantic” vocal group style. The bass voice imitated the string bass, singing nonsense phrases like “doo-doo-wop.” “Sincerely” (1954) by the Moonglows illustrates this “doo-wop” style—a style later defined as rock ‘n’ roll.

(Video) The Origins & Evolution of R&B Documentary

Rhythm and Blues in the Mainstream: Uptown R&B

In the mid-1950s, record labels began producing rhythm and blues music for consumption beyond African American communities (referred to as Uptown R&B). Targeting mainstream audiences, producers applied crossover formulas to the productions of vocal harmony groups. They, for example, replaced rhythm and blues elements with familiar pop production formulas: sing-along refrains replaced call-and-response structures; “pop” vocal harmonies substituted for those associated with the blues and gospel traditions; orchestral arrangements (strings, marimba, tympani, and percussion) replaced rhythm and blues combos; and Latin-flavored rhythms, especially the “cha-cha” beat, substituted for swing rhythms and heavy backbeats on 2 and 4. Examples include “Only You” (1955) by the Platters and “There Goes My Baby” (1959) by the Drifters. Artists also recorded pop standards known as Tin Pan Alley songs written by professional songwriters hired by music publishers beginning in the early 20th century. They wrote ballads, novelty songs, vaudeville and dance songs, among other styles. Some of the most frequently recorded pop standards include “Over the Rainbow,” “Stormy Weather,” “Summertime,” “Georgia On My Mind,” and “At Last.”

Even though rhythm and blues acquired musical elements from pop for mainstream acceptance and marketed under the rock ‘n’ roll label, record labels continued to produce the jazz-blues combo styled rhythm and blues for African American communities. Songs such as Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road Jack” (1962) and “You Don’t Know Me By Now” (1962), Rufus Thomas’s “Walking the Dog” (1963), Ike and Tina Turner’s “You Can’t Miss Nothing That You Never Had” (1964), Etta James’s “Something’s Got a Hold of Me” (1962) and James Brown’s “Prisoner of Love” (1963), remained popular among African Americans, especially in the South. They also continued producing hits that made the Billboard rhythm and blues charts. In the mid-1960s, the combo style transformed into a new sound labeled “soul.”

The New Sounds of Young America

(Video) Rhythm and Blues Revue (1955)

“We were into young people’s music. We had much younger writers, eighteen to twenty-two years old. Writers are a reflection of the voices of people…. if you have a writer, he is going to write about young love. He can’t write about old love – he’s never experienced it.”

Mickey StevensonMotown Songwriter-Producer

By the mid-1950s, songwriters in their late-teens and early twenties were writing hit songs that mirrored their youthful experiences and fantasies. All female groups (“girl groups”) joined their male counterparts recording these songs. The Chantels’ “Maybe” (1957), The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (1960), The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel ” (1962), and The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” (1963) were among the popular girl groups that inspired the formation of teenage girl groups who later signed with Motown Records. The Miracles’ “Shop Around” (1960), The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” (1961), Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heatwave” (1963), The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” (1964), and their male counterparts, The Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (1964) became the next generation of teenaged groups. They represented Motown’s “Sound of Young America.”

Musical Features/Performance Style

The rhythm and blues combo style is rooted in the blues and jazz traditions. The up-tempo style known as “jump blues” is characterized by a 12-bar blues structure, boogie-woogie bass line, shuffle rhythms (triplet quarter note followed by a triplet eighth note), syncopated horn riffs, solo alto saxophone, and group singing on refrain lines. The lead singers of the first rhythm and blues vocal harmony groups, known as “romantic” groups, sang in a lyrical and smooth style that employed phrasing, shading, and timing techniques closely aligned with those of jubilee quartets. Doo-wop groups added rhythmic movements when the bass voice began imitating the “walking” string bass associated with jazz. The addition of orchestral arrangements, sing-along choruses, and Latin rhythms to rhythm and blues made this sound more compatible with the musical tastes of mainstream American adults. The producers for Motown added these pop production elements over a rhythm and blues foundation and incorporated the lyrics of young professional songwriters to produce the crossover Motown’s “Sound of Young America.”

(Video) The History Of R&B Music (IndieGogo Main)

Lyrics

One branch of rhythm and blues lyrics derive from everyday experiences and relationships of adults; they often satirized daily life, illustrated in song titles such as “What’s the Use of Getting’ Sober (When You Gonna Get Drunk Again)” (1942), “R.M. Blues (1946),” “Old Maid Boogie (1947),” “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (1948), and “Elevator Boogie” (1948). Many of these songs employ double entendre, a linguistic device that masked sexual innuendo. Novelty lyrics are common in rhythm and blues and provided humorous commentaries on everyday events in Black life, as found in “Beans and Cornbread” (1949), “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens (1946)” and “Saturday Night Fish Fry” (1949). Relationship songs, especially about romance, are common, for example “There Goes My Baby” (1959), “This Magic Moment” (1960), and “All I Could Do Was Cry” (1960).

The other branch of lyrics mirrors the worldviews, experiences, relationships, and fantasies of teenagers. Songs like “Searching” (1957), “Dedicated to the One I Love” (1961), “Do You Love Me” (1963) and “Dancing in the Streets” (1964).

FAQs

History of Rhythm & Blues? ›

Though it began as a general term for African American music, the synthesis of styles that became what is now called rhythm and blues caught on among a wide youth audience during the post war period and contributed to changing the racial divide in American society and music of the mid-twentieth century.

Where did rhythm blues originate? ›

Rhythm and blues, frequently abbreviated as R&B or R'n'B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African-American communities in the 1940s.

How did R&B begin? ›

The Second Migration and Rhythm and Blues

The early development of R&B occurred in tandem with the second migration of African Americans who moved from the Southern and rural regions of the United States during and after World War II.

Who came up with rhythm and blues? ›

Perhaps the most commonly understood meaning of the term is as a description of the sophisticated urban music that had been developing since the 1930s, when Louis Jordan's small combo started making blues-based records with humorous lyrics and upbeat rhythms that owed as much to boogie-woogie as to classic blues forms.

What was rhythm and blues influenced by? ›

Original rhythm and blues

In its first manifestation, rhythm and blues was one of the predecessors to rock and roll. It was strongly influenced by jazz, jump blues and black gospel music. It also influenced jazz in return; rhythm and blues, blues, and gospel combined with bebop to create hard bop.

Who made the first R&B song? ›

One of the genre's earliest practitioners, bandleader and saxophonist Louis Jordan — who also co-composed the 1944 hit song “Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby” — used elements that would come to define R&B. These included the shuffle rhythm, boogie-woogie bass lines, and short horn patterns or riffs.

Who is the founder of R&B? ›

"The term Rhythm & Blues" (R&B) was first coined in 1948 by music journalist turned record producer Jerry Wexler. As time progressed Blues, Doo Wop, funk, Disco, dance, and other forms of R&B music began to develop around the USA.

How did R&B get its name? ›

The term "rhythm and blues," often called "R&B," originated in the 1940s when it replaced "race music" as a general marketing term for all African American music, though it usually referred only to secular, not religious music.

Who made R&B popular? ›

Ray Charles. As a performer and recording artist in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Ray Charles pioneered a new style of music that became known as "soul," a blend of gospel music, blues, and jazz that brought him worldwide fame.

What makes R&B Unique? ›

The genre features a distinctive record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, pitch corrected vocals, and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement.

What is the difference between blues and rhythm and blues? ›

One way to think of it is that the blues is essentially a vocal music, while R&B is more instrumental—​but the real way to think of it is this: It's a good song, or it's not a good song.”

What was the biggest genre of R&B that emerged in the 1960s? ›

Motown and R&B

The "Motown Sound" and popular R&B music had a major significance in terms of the Civil Rights movement and integration in American society during the sixties.

Who invented blues music? ›

The blues is a form of secular folk music created by African Americans in the early 20th century, originally in the South.

How did R&B evolve? ›

With it came a major change in the exploration of sound, as DJing and rapping became more prevalent in music. As such, R&B captured the rhythmic elements of funk and disco, along with the use of synthesizers, drum machines, sound effects, and rap music sensibility. This became the “new jack swing” era.

What emotions are expressed R&B? ›

Rap evoked emotions of happiness and excitement. It was used to “get pumped up.” R&B/soul was most related to grief, anger, and pride. Jazz evoked similar emotions with the addition of pride, hope, and confidence. Jazz was also used to strengthen moods and was related to age.

Who was the first female R&B singer? ›

On Valentine's Day 1920, a little over a century ago, a 28-year-old singer named Mamie Smith walked into a recording studio in New York City and made history. Six months later, she did it again.

What defines rhythm and blues? ›

Definition of rhythm and blues

: popular music typically including elements of blues and African American folk music and marked by a strong beat and simple chord structure.

What is the difference between soul music and rhythm and blues? ›

Soul music is a combination of R&B (Rhythm and Blues) and gospel music and began in the late 1950s in the United States. While Soul has a lot in common with R&B, its differences include its use of gospel-music devices, its greater emphasis on vocalists, and its merging of religious and secular themes.

When was the golden age of R&B? ›

For decades, its influence was indelible — particularly during the '90s, an era often referred to as R&B's golden age. Artists dominated the charts, and an explosion of groups saw a wave of diverse faces and voices crossing over to the pop charts.

What style of music did R&B come from? ›

Rhythm & Blues (abbreviated R&B) is a term used to describe the blues-influenced form of music which has been predominantly performed by African-Americans since the late 1930s.

Who is the king of R&B of all time? ›

1. Michael Jackson. A dynamic force as the pre-teen frontman of chart-topping family group The Jackson 5, Michael Jackson moonwalked his way into solo superstardom. More than 30 years after its debut, the singer/songwriter's multi-platinum Thriller remains one of the best-selling albums of all time.

Who is considered the king of R&B? ›

For many, Luther Vandross's timeless love songs make him the King of R&B. Fair point. But ask '80s and '90s babies, who grew up with an ear for hip-hop, and they'll likely cite R.

Who is the greatest R&B group of all time? ›

Boyz II Men is the best-selling R&B group ever, with 60 million albums sold … and counting.

What are the 4 common characteristics of rhythm and blues? ›

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...

What color is R&B music? ›

Wikipedia:WikiProject Music/Music genres task force/Colours
CategoryColour codeNumber of uses
Blues / R&B#0000E135
African popular music#00BFFF44
Pop music#87CEEB82
#E6E6FA
31 more rows

What does it mean if you like R&B? ›

R&B attracts a lot of outgoing, extraverted listeners. If you are a fan of R&B, you are someone who truly follows their heart! You have no problem showing your emotions. Especially emotions inspired by the music.

What is the difference between blues and rhythm and blues? ›

One way to think of it is that the blues is essentially a vocal music, while R&B is more instrumental—​but the real way to think of it is this: It's a good song, or it's not a good song.”

Who is known as the father of the blues? ›

Born in Florence, Alabama on November 16, 1873, William Christopher Handy became interested in music at an early age.

Who invented blues? ›

The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th Century. Its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves—African-American sharecroppers who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields.

When was the term rhythm and blues first introduced by Billboard? ›

Billboard magazine coined the term rhythm and blues to rename its “race records” chart in 1949, reflecting changes in the social status, economic power, and musical tastes of African Americans.

How did blues become rhythm and blues? ›

The term first appeared in commercial recording in 1948, when RCA Victor records began using "blues and rhythm" music as a descriptor for African American secular songs.

When did rhythm and blues start? ›

Rhythm & Blues (abbreviated R&B) is a term used to describe the blues-influenced form of music which has been predominantly performed by African-Americans since the late 1930s.

What are the characteristics of rhythm and blues? ›

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...

What was the first ever blues song? ›

The first blues song published was called “I Got The Blues”. It was a ragtime blues, written by Anthony Maggio and published in 1908. The second blues song published was the “Dallas Blues” written by Hart Wand and published in March 1912.

Who is the most famous blues performer? ›

The Most Famous Blues Singers of all Time
  • Robert Johnson (1911) ...
  • Howlin' Wolf (1910) ...
  • Muddy Waters. ...
  • Ma Rainey (1886) ...
  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915) ...
  • Mamie Smith (1891) ...
  • Ray Charles. ...
  • Eric Clapton (1945)
Jul 2, 2022

Who was the first blues artist? ›

It's impossible to trace a first blues singer, but the first recorded blues musician, within the genre which today is recognized as blues, was probably Sylvester “Curly” Weaver, when he recorded Guitar Blues and Guitar Rag in 1923.

Why is it called blues music? ›

The name of this great American music probably originated with the 17th-century English expression “the blue devils,” for the intense visual hallucinations that can accompany severe alcohol withdrawal. Shortened over time to “the blues,” it came to mean a state of agitation or depression.

How did the blues music start? ›

Blues is a music genre and musical form which originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by African-Americans from roots in African-American work songs and spirituals. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads.

What was the purpose of blues music? ›

The social significance of Blues music resides in the revolutionary element of African Americans creating their own aesthetics. Blues music represented the opposing voice that refused to be silenced by oppression and segregation. The Blues expressed this with unprecedented clarity, honesty and simplicity.

When was the golden age of R&B? ›

For decades, its influence was indelible — particularly during the '90s, an era often referred to as R&B's golden age. Artists dominated the charts, and an explosion of groups saw a wave of diverse faces and voices crossing over to the pop charts.

What makes R&B different from other music? ›

The genre features a distinctive record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, pitch corrected vocals, and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement.

What was the biggest genre of R&B that emerged in the 1960s? ›

Motown and R&B

The "Motown Sound" and popular R&B music had a major significance in terms of the Civil Rights movement and integration in American society during the sixties.

Videos

1. The History of Rock - 7: Rhythm and Blues Pre 1945
(Beth McGowan)
2. The Birth Place of R&B (Documentary)
(VICE)
3. Soul Deep; The Story of Black Popular Music. Episode 1.
(Yeroen)
4. What is Rhythm and blues?, Explain Rhythm and blues, Define Rhythm and blues
(Audioversity)
5. Is Blues the Mother of All Modern Music?
(Sound Field)
6. Geschichte des Rhythm & Blues ( R&B)
(Geschichten&Fakten)

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