Rhythm and blues evolved during World War II and is a form of Black dance music. Its development is associated with economic, demographic, and social changes that occurred in American society during the 1940s and 1960s. Primarily recorded by small, regional independent record labels, the term “rhythm and blues” was first used as a marketing label to identify all types of secular music recorded by and for African Americans. From urban and rural blues, boogie-woogie, swing, jazz combos and trios, to solo dancers and vocal harmony groups, rhythm and blues encompassed all Black musical traditions. As a musical style, the term identified as a music genre that was a hybrid of elements from gospel music, blues, jazz, and later, pop.
In 1947, Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson co-founded Atlantic Records. The owners turned to rhythm and blues after the first releases of jazz artists generated disappointing sales. The primary consumers were southern Black adults. Ertegun and Abramson wanted to make inroads with the growing Black teenage market in the South. 68 percent of all Black people lived in the South in 1950. With the help of Jesse Stone, Atlantic’s Black musical director-songwriter-arranger, Ertegun and Abramson traveled to the deep South in search of ideas and talents for developing a commercial blues-oriented rhythm and blues sound. The musical formula, which became known as the Atlantic Sound, simplified the boogie bass line to incorporate the rumba rhythm and streamlined the big band horn-styles arrangements common in popular music. This musical strategy Stone created produced many hits for Atlantic artists.
Songs from many Atlantic artists, including Ruth Brown, the Clovers, and Joe Turner, established Atlantic Records as a major and competitive force in rhythm and blues, appealing to adults and the emerging teenage consumers.