What Is a Brief History of R&B Music?

Rhythm and blues music originated in the 1940s when African-American artists combined blues-style song structures and jazz instrumentation with the heavier sound of electric guitars and bass. The new R&B format’s distinctive sound paved the pay for the development of rock and roll in the 1950s, soul in the 1960s, funk in the 1970s and hip-hop in the 1980s. By the 1990s and 2000s, R&B was closely associated with hip-hop music and R&B songs also appeared on the pop charts.

The roots of R&B music date back to the 1920s, when African-Americans migrated from rural areas to major cities. This migration brought African-American musicians together and created a large audience for their music, leading to the popularity of jazz and blues.

By the 1940s, artists such as Louis Jordan were combining aspects of jazz and blues and incorporating new instruments and heavier beats. Music journalist Jerry Wexler coined the term “rhythm and blues” for the new music. A typical R&B band from the 1940s through 1970 consisted of one or two electric guitars, an electric bass, one or two saxophones, a piano, and drums. Cuban artists influenced American R&B artists in the 1950s, making the form more distinctive, while African-American R&B artists influenced white rock bands. By the 1970s, R&B referred to various genres such as soul, disco and funk.

Contemporary R&B is characterized by a more polished production and may eliminate the piano and saxophone. Vocals and beats take on a greater performance, especially due to the prevalence of hip-hop. Since the 1990s, R&B artists have frequently collaborated with hip-hop artists, blurring the lines between the two genres.