Styles & Forms | Rhythm & Blues

Rhythm & blues (R&B) music evolved out of jump blues rhythms during the late-1940s, but it also had riffs and lyrics that were beginning to point more towards the emergence of rock’n’roll. Using sparser instrumentation than jump blues, R&B was based upon traditional blues chord changes played over a steady backbeat. 

R&B placed more emphasis on the singer and the song than on the band’s instrumentalists. Although it branched out into rock’n’roll during the 1950s, and soul during the 1960s, it always retained its own following, and R&B artists continue to draw large audiences all over the world.

Legendary R&B Singers

As rock’n’roll continued to emerge, R&B branched out into further distinct styles, including doo-wop, electric blues and New Orleans. Each of these exerted its influence on other R&B forms, as well as popular music in general.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, a number of great singers began to emerge from the R&B scene. Ruth Brown was perhaps the first of these. Initially inspired by jazz singers such as Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, Ruth developed her own expressive tone and was recommended to the bosses of a fledgling Atlantic Records in 1948. After she was promptly signed up, they produced a string of R&B classics, including ‘So Long’ (1949), ‘Teardrops From My Eyes’ (1950), ‘I’ll Wait For You’ (1951), ‘(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean’ (1953) and ‘Mambo Baby’ (1954). She became well known as ‘Miss Rhythm’, appeared on the TV program Showtime At The Apollo with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, and proved to be a big influence on subsequent female R&B singers.

Ray Charles was another hugely influential figure in the 1950s R&B movement, and one of the forefathers of soul music. Born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia, on 23 September 1930, and blind since the age of seven, he studied composition and learned to play a number of musical instruments at the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind in Florida. He drew from gospel and Southern blues music to develop a unique singing and songwriting style, which encouraged Atlantic Records to sign him up in 1953. Charles and Atlantic hit the jackpot: ‘I Got A Woman’ was a No. 2 R&B hit in 1955, and Charles followed it with a string of other chart-toppers, combining his unmistakably soulful vocal delivery with R&B rhythms. Ray influenced countless R&B singers and became one of the first soul superstars in the 1960s. He later worked with many popular artists, including Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson.

Another important name in early R&B music is Clyde McPhatter. Originally a gospel singer with the Mount Lebanon Singers in New York, Clyde switched over to R&B when he joined The Dominoes in 1950. They signed to Syd Nathan’s King label and recorded ‘Sixty Minute Man’ (1951), the biggest R&B hit of the year and, according to some, the earliest identifiable e...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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