Rhythm & Blues, usually abbreviated as R&B, is a blue-influenced music genre that originated in America in the tail end of the 1930s and has since been largely performed by African Americans.

Brief History

The term “Rhythm & Blues” was coined by Jerry Wexler (a Billboard magazine reporter at the time) as a replacement for “race music,” an offensive term that was used to refer to any music composed by the black people in America. Jerry later on became an influential producer of music in America.

During the 1950s, R&B was largely associated with black youths in after-hours clubs, as well as honky-tonks. Many Americans at that time dismissed this music style as merely a lowbrow way of black expression, and Jazz was seen as a better (highbrow) option for expressing the black culture during that time. When hip hop music arrived on the scene and began to dominate the music industry, R&B was regarded as a group of love songs. Rhythm and blues would later on expand to include funk and soul music in 1970s. Today, the term is used for almost all urban music sung by African Americans. However, funk and soul can be categorized on their own.

Defining Characteristics

The music typically depends on four-beat bars, hence the word “rhythm.” The word “blues” is included because of the melodies and lyrics of a song, which usually has a sad tone. Remember the music hit the ground against a backdrop of the World War II, which was a sad moment. For convenience purposes, Rhythm and Blues was later on shortened to R&B.

If you listen to classic R&B, you will realize that the music’s vocal harmonies are stacked straight up. This stacking reflects the urban surroundings of Washington DC and Baltimore, as claimed by Stuart Goosman, a writer-musician. The music started in these towns. According to Goosman, the urban segregation that was happening in these cities at that time helped in shaping the consciousness of several African American musicians, leading to increased popularity of the R&B genre. The musician saw music as the only way to freedom from urban segregation.

R&B Pioneers and Contemporary Musicians

Some of the very first R&B groups during the 1940s and 1950s included the Swallows, the Four Bars of Rhythm, Dunbar Four and the Cardinals. Other pioneering groups included the Melodaires, the Clovers, the Five Blue Notes, the Buddies and the Armstrong. Most R&B pioneering artists were born earlier than 1935, and they came of age during the 1940s. In the contemporary world of R&B, we hear likes of Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, and R. Kelly. The themes of their music have been created to resonate with the contemporary R&B lovers all over the world.