R&B: Genre of Versatility

Rhythm and Blues

R&B is known to be an umbrella term allotted to music made by black people, for black people beginning in the 1940s. For this reason, I’d consider it one of the most versatile genres in black music history, as it encompasses a wide variety of music containing all types of sounds and themes.  The music of this era often embodied themes of love, loss, passion, and sorrow in many different ways.  Here is a look at R&B’s versatility.

Jazz's Predecessor

The earliest R&B was influenced by Big Band jazz music using the same instruments (piano, brass, bass, and drums), which later developed into smaller bands/groups of around 5 people on instruments and/or singing.  These songs often adopted characteristics of swing, bebop, and modal jazz. A popular group of this time was the Nat King Cole Trio. In the video is one of their songs,  “Ooh Kickeroonie”.

Vocal Harmony Groups

There were R&B groups like The Clovers that prioritized the use of vocal harmonies in their music, possibly inspired by jubilee quartets in that they usually had around 4 people and used their voices as primary instruments.  These groups later developed to become more “poppy” (ex. The Supremes) with faster tempos and greater emphasis on instruments while still putting vocals at the forefront. An example of this can be seen in “I Remember You” by The Ponderosa Twins + One.

Solo Singers

Although every form of R&B features love and passion as an element, I believe its energy became more strongly emphasized with the development of solo/lead singers in the industry.  Performances became more personal, lively, and full of emotion during this time.  These songs featured a single vocalist backed by instrumentals.  I also believe that solo performers brought more versatility to the genre with their own individual styles. Some well known solo R&B artists include Marvin Gaye, Anita Baker, and Deniece Williams

What became "Rock 'n' Roll"

The emphasis on passion and energy in vocal performances is also reflected in the instruments played. A form of R&B that later developed into rock ‘n’ roll featured these elements, as well as a more significant development of the use of electric guitar.  Vocalists of these songs often had strong, loud, and raspy voices (ex., Muddy Waters and James Brown) accompanied by upbeat and aggressive or “funky” guitar playing. I’d say this was the most distinct manifestation of R&B. Chuck Berry, the “Father of Rock”  was a pioneer of this scene of R&B

As you can see, R&B is a genre that takes on many forms and is still developing currently. It’s versatility is unparalleled and has produced a lot of my favorite music.  Although R&B is an umbrella term that encompasses a plethora of sounds, there is an unmistakable mark that black people leave on it that makes it familiar and unique.  A mark that cannot be replicated by any other.

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