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Rhythm and Blues Music, or "R&B" for short, originated the 1920s and 1930s as a crossover between jazz and blues. During the Great Migration, approximately from 1916 – 1930, cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Memphis, and Detroit saw a massive rise of the African American population. Many people moved to the city in this time period due to collapse of cotton agriculture and the need for industrial workers in the cities during World War I. Because of this transition, African American culture was being disseminated throughout cities, especially music. The term “race records” was originally used to describe all African American music whether it be jazz, blues, or religious music. Due to World War II, urban areas experienced the Second Migration between 1941 and 1950. The African American population in Western cities grew by 33% allowing the opportunity for the expansion of entertainment and music in these areas. Increased economic resources paired with high population density provided an audience willing and hungry to consume new music.


During the 1940s, jump blues was on the rise. Jump blues is a style of R&B music that involves more up-tempo than classic blues music. The leading jump blues artist in this decade was Louis Jordan and his band which was called “Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five”. Jordan was the band’s lead vocalist and saxophonist and he incorporated elements of boogie-woogie, shuffle rhythm, and swing in his music. In 1948, the top 5 songs on the R&B charts (called the Harlem Hit Parade category at the time) were Louis Jordan tracks. His music appealed to both African American and white audiences. Around that same time, Billboard magazine reporter Jerry Wexler, coined the term “rhythm and blues” to replace the term “race records” as in was deemed offensive after World War II. From then on Billboard magazine would use the Rhythm and Blues category to chart that genre of music.


Prior to the 1950s, R&B music was mainly consumed by only African Americans. It was during the 50s that white Americans, mainly teenagers, also began listening to and purchasing R&B music. Artists like The Orioles, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry dominated the R&B charts during the mid-1950s. Towards the end of the ‘50s, the famous Motown Records was founded by Berry Gordy Jr. which became one of the most profitable African American businesses. In 1960, the Miracles’ song “Shop Around” was Motown Record’s first million-selling single. Motown continued to improve the accessibility for R&B music over the years to come. During the 1960s, people began referring to rhythm and blues music as soul music. During this same time, rock and roll began to take elements from R&B and incorporate them into the new popular genre. Then in the 1970s, rhythm and blues began to refer to funk and disco as well as soul.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the emergence of hip-hop music as a genre influenced the R&B sound. Hip-hop would use elements of R&B and vice versa. Sometimes it was difficult for R&B artists to have their music heard over the new hype of hip-hop so they would take on a hip-hop image to combat this. Some of the modern R&B artists that rose to fame in the ‘90s included Usher, R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Boyz II Men, Toni Braxton, and Aaliyah. If you are R&B fan, TicketNetwork has the access to all R&B tickets!


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