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Columbia College Chicago
Rhythm & Blues

Rhythm & Blues

Definition of Style

While the term remains in use as a category designation by some radio programmers and record retailers, the epoch of rhythm and blues (or R&B) truly spans the late 1940s to the early 1960s. As the term suggests, R&B was a combination of the swinging rhythm of jazz and other "race" music with the lyrical content, sonic gestures, and format of the blues. Its early days were dominated by high-energy bandleader-musicians such as Louis Jordan and Johnny Otis, but R&B at its height was largely a vocal form. The vocal-oriented exponents of R&B include the doo-wop groups of the 1950s, such as the Moonglows and the Penguins, and solo vocal artists such as Ruth Brown and Jackie Wilson. Perhaps equally important, the unexpected melding of R&B with country and western (or "hillbilly") music in the mid-1950s gave birth to rock and roll. Later still, in the mid-1960s, R&B would become soul music, as illustrated by the long, varied careers of artists such as James Brown.

Musical Example


Caldonia (F. Moore), Louis Jordan & His Tympany [sic] Five. Let the Good Times Roll: The Anthology, 1938-1953 (MCA Decca MCAD2-11907).

Introductory Bibliography

Barlow, William, and Cheryl Finley. From Swing to Soul: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music from 1930 to 1960. Washington, D.C.: Elliott and Clark, 1994. An illustrated overview that also covers blues and jazz.

George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm and Blues. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. Fact-filled account of the heyday of black control of black popular music and its subsequent decline.

Larkin, Colin, ed. The Virgin Encyclopedia of R&B and Soul. London : Virgin Books in association with Muze U.K. Ltd., 1998. The emphasis is on "classic" R&B, although contemporary artists are also covered.

Selected Discography

Atlantic Rhythm & Blues; 1947-1974 (WEA 81293) 8-CD box set

Brown, James. 20 All-Time Greatest Hits! (Polygram 511326)

Charles, Ray. The Very Best of Ray Charles (Rhino 79822)

Franklin, Aretha. The Very Best of Aretha Franklin, Vol. 1 (Rhino 71598)

Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 (Motown 6312) 4-CD box set|

Jordan, Louis. The Best of Louis Jordan (MCA 4079)

Parliament. Give up the Funk: Best of Parliament (Mercury 526995)

The R&B Box: 30 Years of Rhythm and Blues (Rhino 71806) 6-CD box set

The Stax Story (Stax 4429)