R&B Music

Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B or RnB, is a genre of popular African-American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when “urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat” was becoming more popular. In the commercial rhythm and blues music typical of the 1950s through the 1970s, the bands usually consisted of piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, saxophone, and sometimes background vocalists. R&B lyrical themes often encapsulate the African-American experience of pain and the quest for freedom and joy. The lyrics in this genre of music focus heavily on the themes of triumphs and failures in terms of relationships, freedom, economics, aspirations, and sex.

The term rhythm and blues has undergone a number of shifts in meaning. In the early 1950s it was frequently applied to bluesrecords. Starting in the mid-1950s, after this style of music contributed to the development of rock and roll, the term “R&B” became used to refer to music styles that developed from and incorporated electric blues, as well as gospel and soul music. In the 1960s, several British rock bands such as the Rolling Stones, The Who and The Animals were referred to and promoted as being RnB bands; posters for The Who’s residency at the Marquee Club in 1964 contained the slogan, “Maximum R&B”. This tangent of RnB is now known as “British rhythm and blues”. By the 1970s, the term rhythm and blues changed again and was used as a blanket term for soul and funk. In the 1980s, a newer style of R&B developed, becoming known as “Contemporary R&B”. It combines elements of rhythm and blues, soul, funk, pop, hip hop and dance. Popular R&B vocalists at the end of the 20th century included Prince, Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey.

Although Jerry Wexler of Billboard magazine is credited with coining the term “rhythm and blues” as a musical term in the United States in 1948,[11] the term was used in Billboard as early as 1943. It replaced the term “race music”, which originally came from within the black community, but was deemed offensive in the postwar world. The term “rhythm and blues” was used by Billboard in its chart listings from June 1949 until August 1969, when its “Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles” chart was renamed as “Best Selling Soul Singles”. Before the “Rhythm and Blues” name was instated, various record companies had already begun replacing the term “race music” with “sepia series”. In 2010 LaMont Robinson founded the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame Museum.

Writer and producer Robert Palmer defined rhythm & blues as “a catchall term referring to any music that was made by and for black Americans”. He has used the term “R&B” as a synonym for jump blues. However, AllMusic separates it from jump blues because of its stronger, gospel-esque backbeat. Lawrence Cohn, author of Nothing but the Blues, writes that “rhythm and blues” was an umbrella term invented for industry convenience. According to him, the term embraced all black music except classical music and religious music, unless a gospel song sold enough to break into the charts.[14] Well into the 21st century, the term R&B continues in use (in some contexts) to categorize music made by black musicians, as distinct from styles of music made by other musicians.

In the commercial rhythm and blues music typical of the 1950s through the 1970s, the bands usually consisted of piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, and saxophone. Arrangements were rehearsed to the point of effortlessness and were sometimes accompanied by background vocalists. Simple repetitive parts mesh, creating momentum and rhythmic interplay producing mellow, lilting, and often hypnotic textures while calling attention to no individual sound. While singers are emotionally engaged with the lyrics, often intensely so, they remain cool, relaxed, and in control. The bands dressed in suits, and even uniforms, a practice associated with the modern popular music that rhythm and blues performers aspired to dominate. Lyrics often seemed fatalistic, and the music typically followed predictable patterns of chords and structure.