Top R&B Music Groups of the 80’s

rb music groups of the 80s

R&B music groups of the 1980s played an essential role in shaping contemporary soul and influencing a new generation. Their groundbreaking approach to music production, emotive performances, and soulful vocals continue to resonate with audiences today.

Maze pioneered the quiet storm sound of R&B that relied on soft piano melodies, shuffle rhythm and short horn patterns to establish its identity.

New Edition

New Edition was an iconic teen pop group in the 1980s that set a precedent for more mature R&B vocal acts of the 1990s. Their slick dance moves and precise choreography helped propel them to unprecedented success as Generation X’s answer to The Jackson Five; inspiring every boy band that followed.

Their 1983 debut album Candy Girl was an instantaneous success and gave them their big break. Following winning a talent show, Maurice Starr discovered them and signed them to his label Streetwise Records; their debut single “Cool It Now” quickly rose up the charts before the album containing that track was even released.

This album was the epitome of R&B in its new form at that time, featuring silky production and emotive lyrics that quickly made it an instant classic. Additionally, this was also the band’s first number one hit on charts and cemented their place as an important group.

After their hit run with New Edition was over, its members went their separate ways and pursued solo careers and other endeavors. Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe formed the immensely successful trio Bell Biv DeVoe which saw great success; Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill enjoyed successful solo artist careers.

After their break, New Edition members reunited and released an album and embarked on a tour. Despite internal conflicts among their ranks, New Edition remains one of the most influential R&B groups from the 1980s – its impact can still be felt today.

Atlantic Starr

Atlantic Starr is an r&b music group known for their amazing vocal harmony and soulful rhythms, made up of Wayne Lewis, Melessa Pierce, L’john Epps and Jonathan Lewis on keyboard/background vocal duties.

Beginning as three separate bands – Newban, Exact Change and Unchained Youth – in the early 70s, its founders David, Jonathan and Wayne Lewis decided to merge their bands for an appearance at Woodlands High School in Greenburgh. Following that performance, local gigs were performed to raise money and pursue their goal of signing a recording contract; eventually settling on A&M Records from their alphabetized list of labels to pursue.

Once signed to A&M, the band recorded their debut album Brilliance in 1982. This album included their hit single ‘Circles,’ which made #2 on R&B charts. They released Yours Forever the following year after original member Sharon Bryant had left to pursue solo careers – replaced by Barbara Weathers; eventually this lineup would go on to release As The Band Turns (in 1985) which featured only Lewis brothers Joseph Phillips and Weathers as members.

Atlantic Starr initially came together as disco and funk musicians but over the course of the ’80s transformed into adult contemporary balladeers, performing ballads like 1987’s “Always,” which spent two weeks at #1 on Adult Contemporary chart. Although their soft sound enabled Atlantic Starr to chart several hits like that one, none ever truly broke away from R&B clubs; as the decade concluded drums got louder while silky quiet storm balladry became less favored.

The Gap Band

The Gap Band was one of the most renowned R&B groups of the 80’s. Comprised of three Wilson brothers – Charlie Wilson on vocals, piano keyboards synthesizer and organ; Ronnie Wilson (vocals bass trumpet percussion); and Robert (vocals, drums and percussion); this Tulsa, Oklahoma-based group first established as Greenwood Archer Pine Street Band before eventually changing to The Gap Band in 1973.

The band released its inaugural album under its new moniker in 1976 and showcased raw funk sounds, achieving some modest success at first. But Los Angeles producer Lonnie Simmons signed them shortly thereafter, moving them onto his Total Experience Records imprint in 1977 where they achieved several hits recalling pioneers like Sly Stone, George Clinton and Rick James.

Their 1979 hit single, “Shake,” made number 5 on the Hot 100 and became an indisputable dance floor hit. This song was inspired by a chant they heard an audience singing but couldn’t fully comprehend; thus transforming it into an uptempo P-Funk jam featuring comedic spoken sections.

Not only did it become a massive success, but also raised awareness of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre – something the band had been trying to raise awareness of for some time.

Through their career, the band produced several more albums and was an active touring act, often being known as the black Aerosmith due to their legendary groove-thumping party set. Their music was sampled by various hip hop and soul artists such as II D Extreme, Brand Nubian, Tyler The Creator Mary J Blige GRiTT Bill Heausler 69 Boyz YG Da Brat Ashanti Mia X and more.


Bad Boy Records’ crown jewel of male R&B, 112, were multi-platinum superstars due to their four-part harmony over Hip-Hop production and remain legendary tracks like “Only You” and “Cupid”, both still played today as mainstream classics. While 112 had some member changes over time, their message of love and faithfulness remained constant.

Marvin “Slim” Scandrick, Daron Jones and Quinnes “Q” Parker met while still in high school and began performing together at church and talent shows. Their vocal chemistry eventually caught the attention of rapper and producer Puff Daddy who signed them to Bad Boy Records. Their debut album 112 (named for the address of Atlanta club where auditions for Puff Daddy took place) included hit single “Only You.”

Though some critics may view their collaboration with hip-hop artists as overshadowing their vocal talents, their music remains timeless. Though the group disbanded in 2002, each member went on to lead successful solo careers.

Recently, new groups have emerged on the scene while many ’90s R&B groups have become less common – although groups like Xscape and Chloe x Halle are making efforts to revive them. While record labels may no longer want them, or members embarking on solo projects themselves; bands are no longer as common; nonetheless some legacy groups continue touring worldwide and providing fans with classic hits from their repertoire! Check out some of these legacy groups’ biggest hits below!

The Supremes

In the 1960s, The Supremes revolutionized America’s perception of Black artists. They were the first girl group ever to break through mainstream success and achieve worldwide fame. Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard weren’t mere pop singers – they became icons who performed regularly at New York City’s Copacabana nightclub alongside stars like Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra.

In the late 1950’s, Florence “Blondie” Ballard, Betty McGlown and Diana Ross founded a girl group known as ‘The Primettes’ at Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass housing project (America’s first federally funded housing for African Americans). They recorded one single for Lupine label before becoming signed with Motown founder Berry Gordy who changed their name to ‘The Supremes’.

Once The Supremes made it big, everything changed quickly. Their fame spread throughout concert venues, television networks and radio programs alike; yet even with help from Motown writers such as Smoky Robinson (‘Smokey Robinson) the group had difficulty charting top 20 hits.

Gordy had difficulty managing internal conflicts: many felt that Flo Ballard possessed the superior voice; however, Gordy insisted upon Diane Ross being lead singer instead. Once her voice began failing, Holland-Dozier-Holland (Holland-Dozier-Holland), Holland’s in-house production team, came up with their most famous hit, “Where Did Our Love Go”, helping The Supremes become an international brand. Records continued up until 1976 when original Supreme ‘Flo’ Ballard died of heart failure in Detroit and Jean Terrell replaced her as lead singer before eventually she passed on and Jean Terrell took over her place as lead singer – when original Supreme ‘Flo’ Ballard passed on after 38 years as lead vocalist.