Rhythm and blues
(also known as R&B
) is a popular music genre
, and blues
magazine coined the term rhythm and blues
in 1948 as a musical marketing term in the United States. It replaced the term "race music", which originally came from within the black community, but was deemed offensive in the postwar world. Writer/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
. 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.
In 1948, RCA Victor
was marketing black music under the name Blues and Rhythm
. 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 Tympany 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". Robert Palmer described it as "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat". Jordan's cool music, along with that of Big Joe Turner
, Roy Brown
, Billy Wright
, and Wynonie Harris
, is now also referred to as jump blues
. Also in 1948, Wynonie Harris' remake of Roy Brown's 1947 recording "Good Rockin' Tonight
" hit the charts 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. Paul Williams and His Hucklebuckers' concerts were sweaty riotous affairs that got shut down on more than one occasion. Their lyrics, by Roy Alfred (who later co-wrote the 1955 hit "(The) Rock and Roll Waltz"), were mildly sexually suggestive, and 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 Tympany 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
, who had signed with the Newark, New Jersey
-based Savoy Records
, 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
, 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 Willie Mae Thornton
's original recording of Leiber 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
In 1954 The Chords
" became the first hit to cross over from the R&B chart to hit the top 10 early in the year. Late in the year, and into 1955, "Hearts of Stone
" by The Charms
made the top 20.
Fats Domino made the top 30 of the pop charts in 1952 and 1953, then the top 10 with "Ain't That a Shame". R&B was an upfront use of gospel music conventions in an R&B context. Ray Charles came to national prominence in 1955 with "I Got a Woman". 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 1955, 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. Also at Chess Records in 1955, Bo Diddley's debut record "Bo Diddley"/"I'm A Man" climbed to #2 on the R&B charts and popularized the Bo Diddley beat.
In 1956, an R&B "Top Stars of '56" tour took place. With headliners Al Hibbler
, Frankie Lymon
and the Teenagers, and Carl Perkins
, whose "Blue Suede Shoes
" was very popular with R&B music buyers. Some of the performers completing the bill were Chuck Berry
, Cathy Carr, Shirley & Lee, Della Reese, the Cleftones, and the Spaniels with Illinois Jacquet's "Big Rockin' Rhythm Nand. Cities visited by the tour included Columbia, SC, Annapolis, MD, Pittsburgh, PA, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, NY, into Canada, and through the mid Western US ending in Texas. In Columbia the concert ended with a near riot as Perkins began his first song as the closing act. Perkins is quoted as saying, "It was dangerous. Lot of kids got hurt. There was a lot of rioting going on, just crazy, man! The music drove 'em insane." In Annapolis 70,000 to 50,000 people tried to attend a sold out performance with 8,000 seats. Roads were clogged for seven hours.
Film makers took advantage of the popularity of "rhythm and blues" musicians as "rock n roll" musicians beginning in 1956. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Big Joe Turner, The Treniers, The Platters, The Flamigos, all made it onto the big screen.
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. 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, Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Lloyd Price, who in 1952 had a #1 hit with "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" regained predominance with a version of "Stagger Lee" at #1 and "Personality" at #5 for in 1959.
1960s and later
‘s #5 hit "Chain Gang
" is indicative of R&B in 1960, as is Chubby Checker
's #5 hit "The Twist
". 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
Motown had its first million-selling single in 1960 with The Miracles' "Shop Around". In 1961, Stax Records had its first hit with Carla Thomas' pop-influenced "Gee Whiz! (Look at His Eyes), which featured violins, piano, drums and backup singers. Its next major hit, the Mar-Keys' instrumental "Last Night", was released the same year. "Last Night" introduced the rawer Memphis soul sound, built around horns, electric organs, guitars, and drums, which became the sound the Stax would be most noted for.
Around this time in the United Kingdom, R&B influenced beat music, rock and roll skiffle. Notable beat groups included The Who, The Creation, The Action and The Beatles. Simultaneously, ska emerged in Jamaica as another local R&B variant. Thailand's String music and wong shadow mixed R&B (brought over by American and Australian soldiers serving in the Vietnam War) with indigenous musical forms and other Anglo-American musical styles.
By the 1970s, the term rhythm and blues was being used as a blanket term to describe soul and funk. In the 2000s, the initialism R&B is almost always used instead of the full rhythm and blues, and mainstream use of the term usually refers to contemporary R&B, which is a modern version of soul and funk-influenced pop music that originated as disco faded from popularity.