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Origin of  "Rhythm and Blues"

Rhythm and blues (or R&B) is a musical marketing term introduced in the United States in the late 1940s by Billboard magazine. It replaced the term race music, which was deemed offensive. Today, R&B, no longer an initialism, defines the modern version of the soul and funk influenced African-American pop music that originated with the demise of disco in 1980.

Original Rhythm and Blues

In its first manifestation, rhythm and blues was the predecessor to rockabilly and rock and roll. It was strongly influenced by jazz and jump music as well as black gospel music, and influenced jazz in return (hard bop was the product of the influence of rhythm and blues, blues, and gospel music on bebop).

The first rock and roll consisted of rhythm and blues songs like "Rocket 88" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll" making an appearance on the popular music charts as well as the R&B charts. "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", the first hit by Jerry Lee Lewis was an R&B cover song that made number one on pop, R&B and country and western charts.

Musicians paid little attention to the distinction between jazz and rhythm and blues, and frequently recorded in both genres. Numerous swing bands (for example, Jay McShann's, Tiny Bradshaw's, and Johnny Otis's) also recorded rhythm and blues. Count Basie had a weekly live rhythm and blues broadcast from Harlem. Even a bebop icon like arranger Tadd Dameron also arranged for Bull Moose Jackson and spent two years as Jackson's pianist after establishing himself in bebop. Most of the studio musicians in R&B were jazz musicians. And it worked in the other direction as well. Many of the musicians on Charlie Mingus's breakthrough jazz recordings were R&B veterans. Lionel Hampton's big band of the early 1940s, which produced the classic recording "Flying Home" (tenor sax solo by Illinois Jacquet) was the breeding ground for many of the bebop legends of the 1950s. Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson was a one-man fusion, a bebop saxman and a blues shouter.

The 1950's was the premier decade for classic rhythm and blues. Overlapping with other genres such as jazz and rock and roll, R&B also developed regional variations. A strong, distinct style came out of New Orleans and was based on a rolling piano style first made famous by Professor Longhair. In the late 50's, Fats Domino hit the national charts with "Blueberry Hill" and "Ain't That a Shame". Other artists who popularized this Louisiana flavor of R&B included Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Frankie Ford, Irma Thomas, The Neville Brothers and Dr. John.

It was not in the US but through the thriving UK pop scene of the early 1960s that R&B reached the height of its popularity. Without the same kind of racial distinctions that refused it acceptance in the USA, white British performers and listeners adopted this novel style of music without question, and groups such as The Rolling Stones and Manfred Mann brought it to a wider audience. The term fell into disfavor in the 1960s, being replaced by soul music.

Modern R&B

The term R&B today defines a style of African-American pop music, originating after the demise of disco in 1980, that combines elements of soul music, funk music, pop music, and (after 1986) hip-hop. In this context only the abbreviation "R&B" is used, not the full expression. Modern R&B is distinguished by an electronic record production style, drum machine-backed rhythms, and a smooth, lush style of vocal arrangement. Although it is generally distinguished from the more empassioned genre of soul music, there is significant overlap between the two, particularly in the existence of the hip-hop fused genres of new jack swing, hip-hop soul, and neo soul.