Classic Rhythm and Blues

Rhythm and blues first began to take shape as a recognisable music form in the 1940s following the Great Migration, as there was an influx of Black Americans in major cities such as New York, Chicago, LA, and Detroit. This increased cultural diversity brought with it Black American tradition, including blues and church music. The term rhythm and blues was coined by Jerry Wexler in 1947 to categorise a new, polished blues sound being headed by Louis Jordan and his band, the Tympany Five. By the beginning of the 1950s, rhythm and blues was mainly reaching a black audience; existing primarily in clubs and honky-tonks, it was seen as a simpler alternative to jazz. However, artists such as Johnny Otis saw hits with songs such as Double Crossing Blues and Cupid’s Boogie which helped the genre gain a wider, more diverse audience. 

By the mid 50s, rock ‘n’ roll was becoming a highly popular genre, with many of its leading artists such as Little Richard and James Brown belonging equally to R&B. Due to the simultaneous development of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s, the genres were almost indiscernible during this period. However, in the 60s when rock went in a heavier, more psychedelic direction, R&B pursued a more polished sound. The year 1960 also demonstrated R&B’s diversification with singers such as Sam Cooke and the label Motown Records taking the genre in new directions that led to notable styles. Classic R&B shares many characteristics with rock ‘n’ roll. The instrumentation is often guitar based, with accompanying double bass, drums, piano, vocals and sometimes a saxophone. There is also a heavy blues influence and sometimes elements of gospel traditions. 

Notable artists:

The Tympany Five

The Cardinals

Johnny Otis

Ruth Brown

Fats Domino

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