The History and Evolution of Rhythm and Blues


Mar 3 2008, 23h31

The History and Evolution of Rhythm and Blues

Rhythm and blues (also known as R&B or RnB) is a popular music genre combining jazz, gospel, and blues influences, first performed by African American artists.
In 1947, the term rhythm and blues was coined as a musical marketing term in the United States by Jerry Wexler of Billboard magazine.

Late 1940s
It replaced the term race music (which originally came from within the black community, but was deemed offensive in the postwar world. In that year, Louis Jordan dominated the top five listings of the R&B charts with three songs, and two of the top five songs were based on the boogie-woogie rhythms that had come to prominence during the 1940s. Jordan's band, the Tymphany Five(formed in 1938), consisted of him on saxophone and vocals, along with musicians on trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums. Lawrence Cohn described the music as "grittier than his boogie-era jazz-tinged blues". Writer/Producer Robert Palmer described it as "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat". Jordan's music, along with that of Big Joe Turner and Wynonie Harris, is now also referred to as jump blues.
In 1948, rca victor was marketing black music under the name Blues and Rhythm. That year found the Wynonie Harris song Good Rockin Tonight in the #2 spot, following band leader Sonny Thompson's Long Gone at #1.
In 1949, the term rhythm and blues replaced the Billboard category Harlem Hit Parade. Also in that year, "The Huckle-Buck", recorded by band leader and saxophonist Paul Williams, was the #1 R&B tune, remaining on top of the charts for nearly the entire year. Written by musician and arranger Andy Gibson, the song was described as a "dirty boogie" because it was risque and raunchy. When Paul Williams and His Hucklebuckers toured, the concerts were sweaty riotous affairs that got shut down on more than one occasion. Their lyrics, which were written by Roy Alfred, were mildly sexually suggestive. One teenager from Philadelphia said "That Hucklebuck was a very nasty dance." Also in 1949, a new version of a 1920s blues song, "Ain't Nobody's Business" was a #4 hit for Jimmy Witherspoon, and Louis Jordan and the Tymphany Five once again made the top 5 with "Saturday Night Fish Fry".

Early to mid 1950s
Working with African American musicians, Greek American Johnny Otis produced many R&B hits in 1951, including: "Double crossing blues", "Mistrustin' blues" and "Cupid's Boogie", all of which hit number one that year. Otis scored ten top ten hits that year. Other hits include: "Gee Baby", "Mambo boogie" and "All nite long". The Clovers, a vocal trio who sang a distinctive sounding combination of blues and gospel, had the #5 hit of the year with "Don't You Know I Love You" on Atlantic Records. Also in July 1951, Cleveland, Ohio DJ Alan Freed started a late-night radio show called "The Moondog Rock Roll House Party" on WJW-AM (850). Freed's show was sponsored by Fred Mintz, whose R&B record store had a primarily African American clientele. Freed began referring to the rhythm and blues music he played as rock and roll.
Ruth Brown, on the Atlantic Records label, placed hits in the top 5 every year from 1951 through 1954: "Teardrops from My Eyes", "Five, Ten, Fifteen Hours", "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" and "What a Dream". Faye Adams‘s "Shake a Hand" made it to #2 in 1952. In 1953, the R&B record-buying public made Big Mama Thornton's original recording of Lieber and Stoller's Hound Dog the #3 hit that year. That same year The Orioles, a doo-wop group, had the #4 hit of the year with Crying in the Chapel.

Mid to late 1950s
Ray Charles came to national prominence in 1955 with "I Got a Woman". It was an upfront use of gospel music conventions in an R&B context. Big Bill Broonzy said of Charles' music: "He's mixing the blues with the spirituals... I know that's wrong." At the urging of Leonard Chess at Chess Records, Chuck Berry had reworked a fiddle tune with a long history, "Ida Red". The resulting "Maybellene" was not only a #3 hit on the R&B charts that year, but it also reached into the top 30 on the pop charts. Alan Freed, who had moved to the much larger market of New York City, helped the record become popular with white teenagers. Freed had been given part of the writers' credit by Chess in return for his promotional activities; a common practice at the time.
Two Elvis Presley records made the R&B top five in 1957: "Jailhouse Rock"/"Treat Me Nice" at #1, and "All Shook Up" at #5, an unprecedented acceptance of a non-African American artist into a music category known for being created by blacks.
Nat King Cole, a former jazz pianist who had had #1 and #2 hits on the pop charts in the early 1950s ("Mona Lisa" at #2 in 1950 and "Too Young" at #1 in 1951), had a record in the top 5 in the R&B charts in 1958, "Looking Back"/"Do I Like It".
In 1959, two black-owned record labels, one of which would become hugely successful, made their debut: Sam Cooke's Sar, and Berry Gordy's Motown Records.[26] Brook Benton was at the top of the R&B charts in 1959 and 1960 with one #1 and two #2 hits. Benton had a certain warmth in his voice that attracted a wide variety of listeners, and his ballads led to comparisons with performers such as Cole, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

1960s and 1970s
Sam Cooke‘s #5 hit "Chain Gang" is indicative of R&B in 1960. By the early 1960s, the music industry category previously known as rhythm and blues was being called soul music, and similar music by white artists was labeled blue eyed soul. Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Jackie Wilson,James Brown, Little Richardand Etta James were early popular stars of the soul genre. During the 1960s Beatles boom, both Charles and Brown claimed that they had always really been R&B singers. Little Richard proclaimed himself the "king of rockin' and rollin', rhythm and blues soulin'", because his music embodied elements of all three, and because he inspired artists in all three genres. Solomon Burke's early recordings for Atlantic Records codified the soul style, and his early 1960s songs "Cry to Me", "Just Out Of Reach" and "Down in the Valley" are considered classics of the genre.
In 1961, Stax Records introduced Memphis soul with the Mar-Keys' "Last Night", an instrumental featuring horns, electric organ, and drums. The record label also released Carla Thomas's "Gee Whiz", which featured violins, piano, drums and backup singers. That same year, Motown had its first million-seller with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles's "Shop Around".
Stax Records produced key soul recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Don Covay (who also recorded in New York City for Atlantic Records). Joe Tex's 1965 "The Love You Save" is a classic soul recording. An important center of soul music recording was Florence, Alabama, where the Fame Studios operated. Jimmy Hughes, Percy Sledge and Arthur Alexander recorded at Fame, and Aretha Franklin recorded in the area later in the 1960s. Aretha Franklin's 1967 recordings, such as "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You) ", "Respect" (originally sung by Otis Redding), and "Do Right Woman-Do Right Man", are considered the apogee of the soul music genre, and were among its most commercially successful productions.
Motown Records also contributed to the soul canon, although at the time, the Detroit-based label described itself as a manufacturer of pop music. Music by Motown artists such as Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Marvin Gaye did much to popularise the style, and the overall Motown sound did much to define what later became known as northern soul. In Chicago, Curtis Mayfield created the sweet soul sound that later earned him a reputation as the Godfather of northern soul.
By the early 1970s, soul music had been influenced by psychedelic rock and other genres. The social and political ferment of the times inspired artists like Gaye and Curtis Mayfield to release album-length statements with hard-hitting social commentary. Artists like James Brown led soul towards funk music, which became typified by 1970s bands like Parliament-Funkadelic. By the end of the 1970s, disco and funk were dominating the charts.

With the transition from soul and disco to R&B in the early to mid 1980s, new stars such as Prince and Michael Jackson rose in popularity. Jackson's Thriller re-popularized black music with pop audiences after a post-disco backlash among United States mainstream audiences.
Female R&B singers such as Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson became very popular during second half of the 1980s, and Tina Turner came back with a series of hits with crossover appeal. Also popular was New Edition, a group of teenagers who served as the prototype for later boy bands.
In 1986, Teddy Riley began producing R&B recordings that included influences from the increasingly popular genre of hip hop. This combination of R&B style and hip hop rhythms was termed new jack swing, and was applied to artists such as Keith Sweat, Guy, Jodeci, Bell Biv DeVoe, and the popular late 1980s/early 1990s work of Michael Jackson. Another popular, but short-lived group (with more pronounced R&B roots) was LeVert.

During the early 1990s, new jack swing/R&B group Boyz II Men, the most successful R&B male vocal group of all time, re-popularized classic soul-inspired vocal harmonies. Several similar groups (such as Shai, Soul for Real, Az Yet, All-4-One, and Dru Hill) followed in their footsteps. Boyz II Men and several of their competitors benefited from producers such as Babyface and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. As a solo artist, Babyface and contemporaries such as Brian McKnight eschewed prominent hip hop influences, and recorded in a smooth, soft style of R&B.
In contrast to the works of Boyz II Men, Babyface, and similar artists Other R&B artists from this same period began adding even more of a rap/hip hop sound to their work.
The synthesizer-heavy rhythm tracks of new jack swing was replaced by grittier East Coast hip hop-inspired backing tracks, resulting in a genre labeled hip hop soul by producer Sean Combs. Hip hop soul artists such as Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, Monica, Brandy, Ginuwine and Aaliyah brought more of hip hop slang, style, and attitude to R&B music. This subgenre includes a heavy gospel influence in terms of vocal inflections and sounds. The style became less popular by the end of the 1990s, but later experienced a resurgence.
During the mid 1990s, Mariah Carey, girl groups TLC, En Vogue and SWV and Boyz II Men brought contemporary R&B to the mainstream.
Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men and TLC released albums in 1994 and 1995—Daydream, II, and CrazySexyCool respectively — that sold over ten million copies, earning them diamond RIAA certification.
Other top-selling R&B artists from this era included Vanessa L. Williams, Toni Braxton, Ginuwine, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Monica, Usher and R. Kelly, and groups En Vogue, Blackstreet, Salt-N-Pepa, SWV, Jodeci/K-Ci & JoJo and Destiny's Child in the late 1990s.
In the late 1990s, neo soul (which added 1970s soul influences to the hip hop soul blend) arose, led by artists such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell.

The 2000s and the nu soul
By the 2000s, the cross-pollination between R&B and hip hop had increased. Mainstream modern R&B has a sound more based on rhythm than hip hop soul had, and lacks the hardcore and soulful urban "grinding" feel on which hip-hop soul relied. That rhythmic element descends from new jack swing. R&B began to focus more on solo artists rather than groups as the 2000s progressed.
But soulful R&B continues to be popular, with artists such as Alicia Keys,Joss Stone, Corinne Bailey Rae, Amy Winehouse and John Legend, showcasing classic influences in their work. Their genre is called "nu soul" and it's a 1970s-influenced soul music with influences from jazz, funk and hip hop.


  • igor_falc

    Very good retrospective, Alex! More people of this group should read this. I'm gonna put this article in the main page, OK?

    Mar 7 2008, 21h35
  • igor_falc

    But first, I'd like you tell me the sources for your text, or rather, put them in your article. Alright?

    Mar 7 2008, 21h43
  • Alex_Stone91

    The source is WIKIPEDIA. =)

    Jul 6 2008, 20h00
  • SirAlecHendrix

    "The source is WIKIPEDIA." i sensed that when reading the article :-) may i add : i came to know to R&B in the early 60s, listening to the rolling stones, the yardbirds, the small faces, the pretty things, manfred mann, the animals and john mayall (wikipedia fails to list both as R&B), among others -- "white music". contemporary 'R&B' is quite different, "black music", merging disco, dance, synth sounds, hip-hop, funk, pop into the "urban" mainstream mixture. and if old school soul or a melismatic voice adds to the brew, its called (neo-)soul, often without the 'neo', sometimes even 'jazz'. doesn't detain me from listening to some of it. one of the substantially talented and creative artists in this realm is Prince.

    Ago 4 2008, 21h47
  • seanmakau0

    you guys have any links/ideas or know anything about "art music" post war? if you do, it would be most appreciated, im doing a paper on it, and its hard to find info thanks

    Out 14 2008, 4h48
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