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What is R&B Music?

Dan Cavallari
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Rhythm and Blues or R&B music, was originally termed "race music" and basically included anything intended for African-American audiences. A combination of jazz, gospel, and blues, the term "R&B" was coined in the late 1940s in the United States for use as a less offensive marketing term. While R&B music has evolved over the years to spawn contemporary sounds, the original genre focused on "boogie" rhythms and included such famous acts as Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. The end of World War II produced a surprising call for new sounds, and the R&B music genre took off as a result.

Traditional R&B

In the late 1940s and into the fifties, R&B groups consisted largely of brass instruments and woodwinds, as well as drums, piano and vocals. These elements were common in jazz bands, but R&B musicians produced a heavier sound with a steady beat. As the fifties progressed, the genre became notable for its sexually suggestive lyrics and provocative dancing associated with it. Artists like Muddy Waters descended upon Chicago’s south side, the new center of R&B music, and introduced elements like the electric guitar.

The Sound of R&B

R&B lyrics sometimes focused on segregation and racial issues, like other musical genres associated with African American musicians, but arrangement and musical style became increasingly important. In general, this style of music includes steady rhythms and numerous instruments to create multiple layers of sound. The music is often meant to inspire dancing or to at least provide a sound that is catchy and interesting. Lyrics in these songs can cover a wide range of subjects, such as love, relationships, and dancing.

Development of R&B

As the genre progressed throughout the decades, R&B music started becoming known as soul music; it was also no longer exclusively made by African American artists. White musicians started composing R&B songs, though the genre was still dominated by artists like Chubby Checker, Sam Cooke, and bands like The Miracles. As the music progressed and caught on in society, it helped dispel the commonly held belief that so-called "black" music was only for certain people. The genre transcended race relations and survived by carving out its own niche in the US music scene.

Contemporary R&B

Contemporary R&B music has a distinctly different sound than its forebears. It often focuses on pop beats and culture rather than the blues, gospel and jazz sounds of previous generations, though those elements may still be present. In many ways, it developed and grew out of the "funk" sound and disco in the 1970s. As those types of music became less popular, contemporary R&B mixed some of the style of funk with popular music, though vocal performances in this genre are often heavily inspired by gospel and blues.

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Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari , Former Writer
Dan Cavallari, a talented writer, editor, and project manager, crafts high-quality, engaging, and informative content for various outlets and brands. With a degree in English and certifications in project management, he brings his passion for storytelling and project management expertise to his work, launching and growing successful media projects. His ability to understand and communicate complex topics effectively makes him a valuable asset to any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By anon354595 — On Nov 09, 2013

Could someone please tell me all the characteristics of R&B music?

By anon336988 — On Jun 02, 2013

Can anyone tell me the intended target audience of R&B?

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 22, 2013

I like R&B music that doesn't go over the top. If the singer is very talented and doesn't feel the need to sing all over the place, I find the music relaxing. If the singer doesn't stop wiggling his or her voice throughout the whole song, I can't stand to listen to it.

Even judges in famous singing competition shows tell contestants not to over-sing. It's easy to butcher a good song by chopping each word into a dozen syllables.

By OeKc05 — On Feb 22, 2013

I got a lot of R&B music online while training myself to sing. If you can sing R&B, then you pretty much can sing anything, because some of the hardest vocal moves to do are found in these songs.

I would learn the songs by playing certain parts over and over until I had memorized them. Then, I would record myself singing, and if I didn't hit all the notes, I would go back and try again.

I worked on my voice for years before singing publicly. People have told me that it paid off, and it feels good to hear that. I feel equipped to tackle just about any song now, because I have trained both my ears and my voice to work together to reproduce sounds.

By healthy4life — On Feb 21, 2013

@shell4life – Most R&B music albums focus more on the range and control the singer has over his or her voice, while hip hop albums are more about dance beats and the flow of the words. Hip hop artists often get R&B singers to sing the choruses of their songs, and it provides a nice contrast to the rapping in the rest of the song.

Also, hip hop music uses more sounds that have to be made by computers. R&B features more natural music that comes straight from instruments like guitars and pianos with no manipulation.

By shell4life — On Feb 21, 2013

What is the difference between R&B music and hip hop? I almost think that some songs could be classified as both, but I'm not entirely sure what separates the two.

By Dancelsteel — On Dec 02, 2012

Old R&B music is far better than the R&B right now.

By anon304692 — On Nov 21, 2012

I think that R&B music is brilliant and it sounds dead good.

By malik23 — On Dec 14, 2011

Wow, I cannot believe they also called R&B race music. Man, that stinks.

By GreenWeaver — On Aug 12, 2010

Bhutan- Nat King Cole’s music is classically romantic. But you know I like rap R&B music. The songs are catchy and are difficult to get out of your mind.

Songs like, “Gold Digger” by Kayne West not only make me wants to dance, but I just laugh at the lyrics.

The part that he sings,“He’s got that ambition baby look at his eyes, this week he is mopping floors next week it’s the fries, so I ‘ll stay by his side” makes me laugh every time.

This song also rose to the top of the R&B music charts.

By Bhutan — On Aug 12, 2010

Cafe41- Oh, I love Sade too. Her songs can be sexy and deeply romantic. The song, “No Ordinary Love” really depicts this.

But you know I love oldies R&B music. I loved Nat King Cole. I got that from my mother actually because she adored him and his music.

In fact for my wedding, I used the song “The Very Thought of You”. It is not a well-known song by Nat King Cole, but whenever I hear it, I get goose bumps.

This is really the sign of what top R&B music should make you feel like.

By cafe41 — On Aug 12, 2010

I love R&B music. One of my favorite R&B songs is “Kiss of Life” by Sade. This song has the most beautiful lyrics and at the same time is so relaxing that I just can't get enough of it.

It really reminds me of my husband. This song, like top R&B music really has a wonderful way that it relates to its listeners.

R&B music songs tend to tell a deeply romantic story with their lyrics. The soothing melody just makes this one of my favorite types of music media.

I remember growing up in the New York City area listening to WBLS. They played the best R&B music hits from the best R&B music artists.

Dan Cavallari

Dan Cavallari

Former Writer

Dan Cavallari, a talented writer, editor, and project manager, crafts high-quality, engaging, and informative content for various outlets and brands. With a degree in English and certifications in project management, he brings his passion for storytelling and project management expertise to his work, launching and growing successful media projects. His ability to understand and communicate complex topics effectively makes him a valuable asset to any content creation team.
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