American Music in the United States

Rhythm and Blues

Rhythm and blues, otherwise know as R&B, is a genre of music produced and supported mainly by African Americans in the 1940's. The genre embraces different styles of R&B such as urban, funk and soul. The term rhythm and blues was first used by Jerry Wexler, a music journalist with Billboard Magazine, as a synonym for black rock and roll (until the 1950's the latest styles of R&B was referred to as rock and roll by white DJ's and fans.) R&B has been a great influence on popular music around the world, such as rock music, country and western, gospel music, jazz and other forms of music.

Most R&B performances share a common instrumentation, with its musical ensemble divided into a rhythm section and a horn section. The rhythm section usually consists of a drum set, bass, piano, organ, and guitar. The horn section is made up of saxophones, trumpets, and trombones. Its emphasis on horns in most types of R&B, distinguishes it from other types of music such as rock music.

History: During the 1940's, there was a shifting of the demographics of African Americans, facilitated by their mass movement from the rural South to Midwest, Northeast and West coast cities. New styles of popular music were created to meet the changing tastes of these new urbanites.

This sociological change was accompanied by the invention of the electric guitar in the late 1930s and the discovery of a German made tape recorder by the music industry at the end of World War II. With this new tape that simplified the recording process, entrepreneurial individuals were able to start independent recording companies (such as Atlantic Records, Chess, Specialty, Modern and Motown.) Another important change was the rise in television broadcasting in the late 40's. Radio station owners thought that TV would make radio obsolete, therefore they sold their stations and this allowed blacks to buy and own radio stations on which they could play their music.

The recording of R&B began on the East and the West coasts. Former jazz musician Louis Jordan formed a small ensemble in 1938 named the Tympany Five. Jordan performed mainly in the up-tempo, horn driven style known as jump blues. The jump blues style that he originated quickly became popular among white and black audiences. Jordan was a major influence on every R&B artist in the 1940's. 50's and 60's, including James Brown, BB King and Chuck Berry.

At the same time as Jordan's era, Nat "King" Cole and Charles Brown pioneered a quieter styles of blues called club blues. Two other early styles of rhythm and blues that were popular are an instrumental strain featuring a coarse tenor saxophone sound and the vocal-group genre. In the 1950's, R&B began to be directed toward a teenager audience rather than adults. The vocal-group style gave way to the doo wop style of the 50's.

In the 1960's, the three most important styles of R&B were: Chicago Soul, the Motown Sound and southern style. Chicago style was influenced by gospel-music songs and was the style of music that artist Curtis Mayfield used.

Motown music combined songwriting with straightforward vocal delivery. Motown records was formed in Detroit, Michigan by Berry Gordy, Jr. The most important Motown artists include, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

Southern soul was originated by James Brown and Ray Charles. This style of music was heavily influenced by gospel music. Other important artists in this sub genre of R&B are Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Al Green.

The changing social sphere of African Americans in the late 1960's brought about a militancy in blacks and increased sense of African heritage, which had a profound effect on R&B music. James Brown signaled the start of funk music with his song "Cold Sweat". This style was adopted by artists such as Sly and the Family Stone and George Clinton. Funk gave way to disco which was dominated by artists like Donna Summers and Earth, Wind and Fire.

In the 80's and 90's artists such as Michael and Janet Jackson and Prince burst onto the scene producing a songs that borrowed many different styles merged together. This style of music was dance oriented and with the rising popularity of music videos, artists' dancing abilities became increasingly important. Today, the vocal group tradition continues, as does the prominence of solo vocal acts such as singers Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross.