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IntroductionRhythm-and-Blues Music or R&B">
Rhythm-and-Blues Music or R&B
Rhythm-and-Blues Music or R&B, variety of different, but related, types of popular music produced and supported primarily by black Americans beginning in the early 1940s ( "see "African American Music). Rhythm-and-blues music, also known simply as R&B, embraces such genres as jump blues, club blues, black rock and roll, doo wop, soul, Motown, funk, disco, and rap. First coined in 1949 by Jerry Wexler, who would become prominent with Atlantic Records, the term "rhythm and blues" was used as a synonym for "black rock and roll" (rock-and-roll music done by black musicians) in the early and mid-1950s. Until white rock-and-roll performers such as Bill Haley and Elvis Presley achieved mass popularity in the mid-1950s, what was commonly referred to as "rock and roll" by white disc jockeys and fans was referred to as the latest style of "R&B" by black disc jockeys and fans.
As a traditionAs a tradition, R&B provided the single greatest influence on popular music worldwide for much of the second half of the 20th century. This influence can be traced in forms of rock music, country and western, gospel music, and jazz as well as in a variety of non-Western forms of music ( "see "Worldbeat), including Nigerian "juju," a style of popular dance music, and Algerian "rai," another popular style distinguished by its rebellious lyrics. As the influence of various styles of R&B has grown, black urban values have also permeated a wide variety of other cultures, most notably that of contemporary Euro-American youth.
Common Musical Elements
Despite vast differences between genresDespite vast differences between genres, such as rap and jump blues, there are common musical and social elements that link the many styles of R&B. The approach to musical rhythm is the most important distinguishing characteristic of R&B music and its substyles. While all genres of R&B typically depend upon four-beat building blocks (measures or bars), prominent use of syncopation, and a "backbeat" (beats two and four accented in each measure), the specific approach to the expression of musical time (the so-called groove) is one of the primary means of differentiating one genre from another, and even one player or band from another.
Timbre is another important distinguishingTimbre is another important distinguishing characteristic of R&B. "Timbre" refers to the quality or color of a soundfor example, a listener may tell a saxophone and a guitar apart, or distinguish one vocalist from another, by the differences in their timbre. Most styles of R&B rely extensively on timbre variation over the course of a performance to achieve interest. R&B singers and instrumentalists often alternate between gentle, smooth timbres and harsh, raspy timbres, giving the music a wide range of emotional expression.
In addition to rhythm and timbreIn addition to rhythm and timbre, other common elements of R&B music include the use of: (1) the twelve-bar form, a three-lyric line structure originating in earlier styles of blues; (2) call and response, whereby a singer or instrumentalist will sing or play a phrase and another vocalist or instrumentalist will answer with another phrase; (3) incessant repetition of musical notes, rhythms, phrases, or verses; (4) the use of "blue notes" (notes that bridge the musical relationship between the minor and major modes; "see "Mode); and (5) a tightly integrated and complex blending of instruments, in which it is often difficult to differentiate the separate sounds or instruments being played at a given moment.
FinallyFinally, with the exception of rap, most R&B performances share a common instrumentation, with the performing ensemble divided into a rhythm section and a horn section. Typically, the rhythm section consists of a drum set, bass, piano (sometimes organ instead of or in addition to piano), and guitar, while the horn section features saxophones, trumpets, and occasionally trombones. The emphasis on horns in most styles of R&B has been one of the ways in which the music has historically been differentiated from white rock music.
HistoryPrint this section
Rhythm and blues originated from the sociologicalRhythm and blues originated from the sociological, industrial, and technological changes that took place in the United States just prior to and during World War II (1939-1945). Foremost among these changes was a widespread shift in American demographics. Attracted by relatively high-paying wartime employment, hundreds of thousands of black Americans migrated from the rural South to Midwest, Northeast, and West Coast cities. In popular music, new styles were created to meet the changing tastes of this demographic group, leading to the development of the urbane sounds of R&B.
The profound sociological changes of theThe profound sociological changes of the World War II period were accompanied by two significant technological developments: the invention of the electric guitar in the late 1930s and the discovery of the German-invented tape recorder by the music industry at the end of the war. With the new, relatively affordable technology of magnetic tape, which simplified the recording process ( "see "Sound Recording and Reproduction: "The Tape Recorder"), enterprising individuals were able to start independent record companies. Since the major record companies in the United States, with the exception of Decca Records, had little interest in R&B, newly formed independent companies, such as Atlantic, Chess, Specialty, and Modern, were crucial for the production and distribution of R&B recordings.
Another important industrial change resultedAnother important industrial change resulted from the rise of television broadcasting in the United States in the late 1940s. Radio-station owners who thought that television would soon make radio obsolete sold their stations at bargain prices. New radio-station owners, seeking a niche in the marketplace, often turned to newly urbanized American blacks. Beginning with the Memphis radio station WDIA in 1948, these emergent black-oriented radio stations allowed the new independent record companies to air the sounds of R&B to a black urban audience.
Early R&B Styles
Although the sounds of early black urbanAlthough the sounds of early black urban music were being performed throughout the United States, the recording of R&B began on the two coasts. Former big-band jazz musician Louis Jordan formed a small ensemble in 1938, which he eventually named the Tympany Five. Signed to New York-based Decca Records, Jordan recorded primarily in the up-tempo, horn-driven style known as jump blues. His compositions tended to be based on traditional 12-bar blues and featured appealing "riffs" (repeated phrases commonly played by the horn section), simplified rhythmic solos, and humorous lyrics. Many of Jordan`s biggest hits, including G.I. Jive (1944), Caldonia (1945), and Choo Choo Ch`Boogie (1946), were exceedingly popular with both black and white audiences. The jump-blues style he originated rapidly spread among black musicians, with distinctive regional variants emerging in cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee. Jordan influenced every R&B artist in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, including James Brown, B. B. King, and Chuck Berry.
At the same timeAt the same time, a number of pianists, including Nat `King` Cole and Charles Brown, pioneered a much quieter, subdued style known as club blues. These artists were often called "sepia Sinatras" ( "see "Sinatra, Frank), a moniker that reflected the crooning vocal style that characterized this genre. By playing ballads with a highly rhythmic piano style, Cole, like Jordan, was able to sell his music well to both black and white audiences.
Two other styles of R&B were popular inTwo other styles of R&B were popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s: an instrumental strain largely modeled on jump blues and featuring a coarse, honking tenor saxophone sound; and the vocal-group genre. The most important musicians who promoted the instrumental style were tenor saxophonist Big Jay McNeely, alto and baritone saxophonist Paul Williams, and tenor saxophonist Joe Houston. The most important vocal groups of the time included the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, and the Ravens.
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