R&B moved away from rock and roll during the 1960s due to artists like Etta James introducing a more soulful sound into pop music, inspiring Aretha Franklin and her Motown Records girl groups.
Early musicians versed in blues and African American church music brought new songs from these genres into northern cities and secured recording contracts using electric guitars, drums, double bass, and piano instruments.
The Great Migration
R&B can be traced to the expansion of African American urban communities during the twentieth century. Specifically, during the Great Migration from 1916-1970 many Southern African Americans left rural areas for cities to search for work, which resulted in a wave of black cultural production that included R&B music that blended African American gospel and traditional rhythm and blues with jazz, pop and rock influences; predominantly associated with cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and New York.
Piano trios and vocal harmonies in doo-wop style were characteristic of classic R&B during this era, while pioneer Louis Jordan popularized jump blues – an uptempo mix of rhythm & blues with jazz.
Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson’s 1980s success with classic albums like Off the Wall and Thriller helped pave the way for contemporary R&B styles, which feature smooth vocals with elements from other genres including hip hop.
Contemporary R&B often utilizes keyboards, synthesizers, and looped drum beats as its instrumentation of choice; this differs from early R&B that was heavily influenced by rock and roll and used electric guitars and double bass as its instruments of choice. R&B music’s lyrics typically explore themes related to pain such as racism or oppression as well as love and romance.
In the 1940s, musicians such as Louis Jordan, Clyde McPhatter, and the Tympany Five established what would later be known as R&B music. Influenced by jazz and blues genres but featuring quicker tempos than those genres; additionally it included vocal group harmonies embraced by artists such as Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, and TLC.
Music’s development was intimately tied to urban African American communities across North, Western and Southern regions of the US. After two massive migration waves from Southern areas triggered by boll weevil infestation and wartime factories’ workforce shortage, these communities thrived and flourished into cities.
Urban communities were an ideal setting for R&B music. Artists performing this form drew from black expressive culture, such as jump blues, gospel, and boogie. Additionally, their experiences living through legally sanctioned racial segregation, international conflicts, and the civil rights movement informed their songs, which therefore addressed a broad array of topics.
In the 1950s, rhythm and blues emerged as an influential musical genre in America. This trend can be attributed to African Americans moving into urban centers during and after World War II resulting in this genre blending multiple genres into its compositions.
Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five made jump blues famous. This energetic uptempo mix of jazz and blues eventually gave way to bebop, while artists such as Count Basie and Jay McShann managed to bridge both genres by producing tracks which became hits on both charts.
Early R&B music featured electric guitars, double basses and piano, often with melodies performed by crooning vocalists. Influenced by black gospel and blues music forms like those heard at church services or nightclubs like Aretha Franklin and her Supremes bandmates, this genre also served as the precursor for contemporary singer-songwriters such as Aretha Franklin.
Pat Boone helped R&B appeal to a broad audience, from white teenagers and their parents, all the way through to older black audiences like Ray Charles, Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston who employed smooth vocalizations that are still an integral element of modern R&B.
While African American musicians continued to perform smooth blues and R&B in the ’60s, larger national organizations were actively advocating on behalf of black Americans’ social and political concerns ranging from voting rights to labor issues. This social movement eventually translated to ethnic pride reflected through R&B and soul music.
Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five pioneered jump blues, an upbeat mix of jazz and blues that would become an early precursor of modern R&B. Later crooners such as Etta James and Sam Cooke added soulful vocals to popular music; Curtis Mayfield wrote songs such as the powerful “People Get Ready,” which encouraged African Americans to remain persistent in their fight for civil rights.
The 1970s witnessed R&B musicians experiment with syncopated rhythms and more Afrocentric lyrics, eventually giving rise to funk music. Today’s R&B genre encompasses anything from medium-tempo ballads by Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Gerald Levert and Gerald Levert to Janet Jackson’s uptempo hits (Jackson herself has stated she doesn’t consider herself R&B) and girl group harmonies of Jodeci and After 7 (though some would argue their music falls closer to hip hop than R&B). Even at its broadest form modern R&B still shares its core with blues, gospel and soul music.
In the 1970s, new talent and an evolving style of R&B emerged. Musicians experimented with various musical genres like funk, jazz and hip hop in an effort to craft more contemporary sounds. Artists such as Ike Turner and Tina Turner gained prominence during this era with more rock-oriented R&B sounds that utilized horn sections as part of their bands and used vocal harmonies that recalled doo-wop music. Louis Jordan made waves by popularizing jump blues: an uptempo mix of jazz and blues which helped develop R&B’s contemporary sound.
Marvin Gaye also used music as a vehicle to express themselves politically and socially, using his album, What’s Going On (1971) as an outlet to protest America’s civil rights policies – marking its breakthrough into pop music history.
Producers like Teddy Riley first began incorporating hip hop elements into R&B music through new jack swing. This trend continued with artists like Mary J Blige, Montell Jordan, BellBivDeVoe (featuring former members of Jodeci), incorporating hip hop inspired beats and slang into their music; these artists paved the way for Usher and Mariah Carey as crossover R&B stars who bridged contemporary and hip hop soul sounds into one musical genre.
The 1980s witnessed an evolution in R&B music as musicians began to blend sounds and create new genres. R&B became particularly well-suited for dance clubs during this era; artists like Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and Boyz II Men became known for their smooth vocal performances at dance clubs. Southern artists also helped develop this style with mellow blues-based sounds; pianist Charles Brown especially found much success implementing such techniques into his songs.
In the ’80s, there was also a revival of girl groups like En Vogue, SWV and Destiny’s Child that enjoyed enormous commercial success and chart dominance. Additionally, new jack swing, which mixed R&B with hip hop music rhythms was introduced and became widely popular during this era.
As the 1990s progressed, hip hop and R&B became more intertwined than ever, with artists such as Usher and Beyonce (formerly of Destiny’s Child) blurring the boundaries between contemporary R&B and pop. Today, artists like Snoh Aalegra and GIVEON continue this trend by refusing to be boxed into any particular style or influence and exploring a range of influences and styles that show just how far r&b has come since its Southern race music origins; captivating young audiences worldwide.
The Great Migration from 1916 – 1970 caused rural Southern African Americans to move to cities for greater job opportunities and r&b was one of many genres that thrived there. Talent was one of the main drivers of its expansion; by the 90s artists like Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and TLC had made r&b an established genre.
At this time, female vocalists who dominated R&B were strong and powerful – similar to Motown stars of the 60s. Artists such as Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion led this charge with impressive vocal ranges and emotional performances that propelled them onto charts around the world.
As the genre evolved into its modern incarnation, its influences expanded beyond jazz, soul and rock music to encompass jazz funk, soul, rock, jump blues by Louis Jordan was an influential model that combined swing music with shuffle rhythms, boogie-woogie bass lines and short horn riffs or patterns or shorthorn patterns or riffs – with artists such as Frank Ocean and SZA pushing its limits with experimental R&B, yet its origins still had great significance for its shape and direction.