R&B -- short for rhythm and blues -- started out as music by African-Americans for African-Americans. Originally termed "race music" by "Billboard," the music combined jazz, gospel, blues, ragtime, Latin, country and pop into its own distinct format, which has evolved into many forms and has remained popular since the 1950s, when the term first gained popularity and albums were released under that name.
Respect: The Development of R&B
African-Americans, isolated because of segregation, developed their own distinct musical voice, including spirituals, ragtime, jazz and the blues. R&B was born out of "jump" blues, an up-tempo variety featuring horns. In 1948, music journalist and record producer Jerry Wexler coined the phrase "rhythm and blues," explaining in his autobiography, "I liked the sound of 'rhythm and blues.' It sung and it swung like music itself -- and I was happy when it stuck; it defined a new genre of music. The handle worked its way into our language and has managed to survive four decades." During the '60s and '70s the sound expanded into funk, soul and even some disco. By the end of the century, hip-hop became one of the major sounds of R&B.
Everyday People: Early Prominent R&B Artists
Ray Charles, pianist, singer and arranger, mixed blues and gospel styles and dominated the R&B scene in the 1950s. He recorded such hits as "I Got a Woman," "This Little Girl of Mine" and "A Fool for You." Little Richard -- Richard Penniman -- calls himself the "architect of rock and roll" and was a major R&B performer in the 1950s whose hits crossed to the pop chart. Some of those included "Long, Tall Sally," "Tutti Frutti" and "Good Golly Miss Molly." James Brown was a pioneer of soul music, which blended gospel with R&B. He had such hits as "Please, Please, Please," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)." Stevie Wonder came into prominence in the '60s as a child prodigy, signing with Motown at the age of 11. He's had such hits as "Superstition," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Aretha Franklin became the Queen of Soul, starting as a gospel star as a teenager and performing for six decades. Her hits include "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," "Chain of Fools" and "Respect." Other major R&B artists include Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Otis Redding, The Temptations, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Michael Jackson, Prince, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson and Martha & the Vandellas.
Shake, Rattle & Roll: Characteristics of the Music
R&B gets its sound from the two parts of its name -- rhythm and blues -- and now incorporates a large number of sub-genres. The rhythm refers to an accent on beats two and four in a four-beat measure -- also known as a backbeat. The blues comes from soulful lyrics and melodies. R&B artists performed in small combos with electric guitar and bass adding intensity to the saxophone and piano. In time, R&B music began to be more regionally defined. Urban centers concentrated on vocals and smooth sounds, Motown was pop-driven and musicians out of the South used more horns, raw vocals and syncopated rhythms. Soul music emphasized vocals and impassioned delivery. Funk developed with strong bass lines and experimental sounds. Hip-hop music is highly rhythmic and relies heavily on rhyming and chanting.
One Nation Under a Groove: Influences on Other Music
R&B had an impact on generations of American music. R&B artist Miguel Pimentel recently told NPR, "Historically, black music has influenced other cultures and other genres, and created other genres. Rock would have never happened without the blues." Rock stars mimicked the songs of R&B artists such as Chuck Berry, Ike Turner and Little Richard. Country music also has deep roots in blues music and was influenced by artists such as Ray Charles.