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Rhythm and blues, which is most commonly referred to as R & B, is comprised of a variety of different but related styles. This title often encompasses such styles as jump blues, club blues, black rock and roll, doo wop, soul, motown, funk, disco, and rap. The term rhythm and blues was originally coined in 1949 by Jerry Wexler.
Throughout the 20th century, R & B has been the largest influence on popular music all over the world. The influence can even be seen in forms of rock, country and western, gospel, and jazz. Despite the fact that there are many styles, there are common musical and social elements that link them. The musical rhythm is clearly the most important and distinguishing element.
All the genres of R & B typically depend upon a four-beat measure and a backbeat (the accentuation of beats two and four). However, the specific approach to the expression of this musical time (the “groove”) is the primary differentiation between one genre and another. Except for rap, the performing ensemble is generally divided into a rhythm section and a horn section.
Rhythm and blues originated from the massive social, industrial, and technological upheaval that took place in the United States just prior to and during World War II. Hundreds of black americans began moving northward into cities as high paying wartime employment opportunities became available. New musical styles were created to meet the emerging tastes of this demographic group. Thus, the new urbane sounds of rhythm and blues were developed. In addition, technological changes in music took place. The invention of the electric guitar and the tape recorder were major influences on rhythm and blues. The recording process was now simplified and companies were developed solely around distributing R & B music.
Early R & B Styles:
Club blues, a subdued style of R & B began early as pianists like Nat King Cole and Charles Brown gained greater acclaim. At the same time, jump blues, an up-tempo style that featured horns, began developing. During the l950s rhythm and blues began catering to a teenage audience, rather than an adult one. In addition, black rock and roll developed and forever changed American culture. Many artists began subdividing the basic quarter note into eighth-notes as opposed to the triplet or shuffle subdivision, the subdivision that was most commonly used in earlier rhythm and blues.
Motown and Soul Music:
The 1960s were marked by three main styles: 1. Chicago soul (influenced by gospel music); 2. Motown sound; and 3) southern soul. Each style had its own key features and musicians who made it popular.
Funk and Disco
During the late 1960s, changes in cultural views began to be articulated by many black Americans. These changes were quickly reflected in rhythm and blues music in the development of funk. Funk de-emphasized melody and harmony and made rhythm the most important element. Disco also developed during this time and rivaled funk’s popularity.
Dance and Rap:
During the 1980s and 1990s, superstars like Prince, Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson created a new style by borrowing from funk and other dance styles. Rap was the most significant development in popular music during this time period. The roots of rap lie in African and African American verbal games. The first rap recording was “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang in 1979, and it became a novelty hit almost immediately. It wasn’t until 1986, however, when Run-DMC re-recorded “Walk this Way” (a popular Aerosmith song) that rap gained popularity among white audiences