The term rhythm & blues was coined by Billboard magazine
reporter Jerry Wexler in the 1940s to replace the designation "race music"—
the catch-all phrase used to denote a blues — and gospel-inspired form of
music played by African-Americans since the 1930s. Rhythm and blues foreshadowed
the advent of rock & roll (born of equal parts R&B, country and Tin Pan
Alley) and evolved into soul in the 1960s and funk in the 1970s. Contemporary
R&B is a form of popular music that integrates elements of hip
hop and electro. R&B's rich musical lineage includes the likes of James
Brown, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.
Rhythm and blues, or R&B, first arose in the United States
in the 1930s. Steeped in the blues, jazz and
gospel — fertile musical terrain — this polymorphous genre
spawned the seeds of rock'n'roll, which emerged fully formed less
than a decade after Wexler coined his famous phrase.
R&B was a dance music whose chief vocation was to entertain. Among its first
stars were singer and saxophonist Louis Jordan and his orchestra,
the Tympany Five, as well as singers Roy Brown, Big Joe Turner
and Wynonie Harris. For some, these artists came firmly under the
jump blues banner, while others have suggested that they were rockers before the
term came into existence.
Up until the mid-1950s, in fact, R&B and rock'n'roll had a great deal in common,
not the least of which were similar instrumentation and stylistic parameters. One
major difference persisted, however: the race of the musicians.
In 1949, the American magazine Billboard officially coined the term R&B
to denote popular recordings by black artists (except recordings of classical and
religious music) for black audiences.
Three years later, when Alan Freed euphemistically used the term
rock'n'roll to categorize the records he played on the radio, the DJ, in reality,
was trying to make R&B more palatable to white audiences. Over time, rock &
roll, too, would become a "whiter" form of music (see our rock file),
whereas R&B remained, in essence, an African-American music.
Early R&B stars included pianists Fats Domino and Little
Richard, along with guitarists Howlin' Wolf and
Bo Diddley, and the inimitable James Brown (also
mentioned in the Soul section of this file).
Founded in 1947, the Atlantic record company began as a jazz and
blues label before shifting its focus to R&B. Atlantic launched the career of
Ray Charles in 1954, and the label's resident songwriters Leiber
and Stoller wrote reams of material for groups like the Coasters
and the Drifters, led by the illustrious Ben E. King.
Atlantic also enjoyed a string of successes in the 1960s with artists such as
Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave,
Booker T. & the MG's and Aretha Franklin.
All recorded at the legendary Stax studios in Memphis or the
Fame studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and (ironically) all played
alongside white musicians much of the time.
Created in 1959, the Detroit-based Motown Record Corporation quickly
became a hit factory as well as the first label to achieve crossover success, as
founder Berry Gordy Jr. found a tuneful recipe that appealed
to a broad spectrum of audiences, black and white. The talented performers on the
Motown roster were fortunate enough to work with seasoned composers like the Holland-Dozier-Holland
trio and singer Smokey Robinson, not to mention crackerjack studio
musicians like the Funk Brothers rhythm section. Motown's flagship
performers included Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and
the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations,
The Four Tops, Junior Walker and The Jackson 5.
In New Orleans, meanwhile, pianist, composer and producer Allen Toussaint
was at the helm of a mini-music factory that produced such popular singers as
Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey.
In the late 1950s, the duo of Ike & Tina Turner earned a richly
deserved reputation as ferocious performers, also opening for The Rolling Stones
during the band's 1966 tour.
In the mid-1960s, a sharper distinction emerged between R&B and rock and roll,
as R&B — now broadly referred to as "soul" — continued
to evolve, eventually giving rise to the funk movement of the 1970s. In the 1980s
a tamer, more polished brand of rhythm & blues dubbed contemporary R&B
— or urban music — merged seamlessly into the pop and
hip hop mainstream. Its leading lights included Michael and
Janet Jackson, songbirds Whitney Houston and Mariah
Carey, and Boyz II Men. Following them
in the 1990s were Babyface, Mary J. Blige,
TLC, Erikah Badu, Alicia Keys
and many others.
Today, the original spirit of R&B is alive and well thanks to a small handful
of aficionados such as Gabriel Roth and Neil Sugarman,
the musicians behind Daptone Records, where soul and funk rule
the roost. The label's best known artists include energetic funk combo The Budos
Band and incandescent singer Sharon Jones, who would
not have been out place 40 years earlier.
Because it better reflected R&B's gospel heritage, the term soul
was used in lieu of R&B in the 1960s to designate popular Afro-American music.
Among the soul artists who cut their teeth singing or playing gospel music in church
were Ray Charles, widely considered to be the father of the genre,
Jackie Wilson, one of its richest voices, and James Brown,
aka the "Godfather of Soul." Following in their footsteps were singers
Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, the duo Sam
& Dave and the "Queen of Soul," Aretha Franklin.
Soul first gained notoriety in the Northern U.S., particularly in Chicago, home
to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, Detroit, where Motown was
king, and Philadelphia. In the South, Memphis and Florence, Alabama, were the chief
soul hotspots, with each region developing its own style.
While soul, in its original form, was the exclusive preserve of Afro-American artists,
performers such as the American duo The Righteous Brothers, British
singers Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield and Joe
Cocker embody a whiter — and some would argue more diluted —
brand of soul.
In 1964, Sam Cooke, the grandmaster of soul, released a 45-rpm
record whose flipside, A Change Is Gonna Come, signalled a shift toward
more engaged content that better reflected the social and political concerns of
the day. Four years later, James Brown recorded Say It Loud
(I'm Black and I'm Proud), which became a theme song of sorts for the Black
Power movement. Two other prime examples of this trend were Marvin Gaye's
What's Going On? (1970) and Curtis Mayfield's Curtis,
an album released in 1971. Also echoing the spirit of the times was Stevie Wonder,
with albums such as Talking Book (1972) and Innervisions (1973).
Other soul artists to make their mark during this period were The Staple Singers,
Al Green, who became a reverend in the mid-1970s, and Isaac Hayes,
whose turn at success as a solo artist came after putting his stamp on several hits
by Sam & Dave. The incomparable Barry White lent his deep baritone
voice to a smooth and sensuous soul that was the music of romance for a generation.
In the 1980s, soul took on a more synthetic sound, with greater emphasis on keyboards
and rhythm boxes — by then widely used in hip hop and electro. In doing so,
it waded deeper into the contemporary R&B mainstream (see above).
Funk music first appeared in the late 1960s, in a direct line of
descent from soul and jazz, and, to a lesser extent, psychedelic rock. For the proponents
of this emerging genre, melody took a back seat to rhythm, with bass and drums pushing
the beat and brass licks providing added punch.
The grand princes of funk include James Brown (no stranger to innovation),
Maceo Parker (Brown's leading reedman), Curtis Mayfield,
Sly & the Family Stone, The Ohio Players and
Chaka Khan. Big Easy multi-instrumentalist Dr. John
came up with his own singular psyched-up, Louisiana flavoured mixture. At the helm
of two bands, Parliament and Funkadelic, the flamboyant
George Clinton brought a theatrical flair to the funk scene in
the 1970s, with acolyte Bootsy Collins following suit.
Also spawning an active interest in funk were two illustrious jazzmen. With his
1972 release On the Corner, an album that was misunderstood at first, trumpeter
Miles Davis set the tone for a generation of musicians. Keyboardist
Herbie Hancock's groundbreaking 1973 album Head Hunters,
by contrast, was immensely popular, becoming one of the first jazz-funk albums to
Changing of the Guard
A new contingent of stars entered the funk firmament in the early 1980s. Singer
Rick James vaulted to the top of the charts with hits like Give
It to Me Baby and Super Freak (1981), and the period also saw
guitarist Prince put together a string of popular albums blending
funk, new wave and electro. Among them were 1999 (1983), with its signature
hit Little Red Corvette, and the hugely successful Purple Rain
(1984), a more rock-inspired album.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, American groups found inspiration in rock-funk
fusion, the best known being the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living
Colour and Rage Against the Machine.
Much as soul music had, funk music, after 2000, blended into the contemporary
R&B mainstream. Its influence is still apparent, however, in
recent hits such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z's
Crazy In Love (2003), which features a sample of Are You My Woman
by the Chi-Lites or the Jennifer Lopez song Get Right
(2005), highlighted by a Maceo Parker horn sample from Soul
Power '74, written by James Brown.
R&B, SOUL AND FUNK AT THE FESTIVAL
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal has welcomed a host of household
names in R&B, soul and funk over the years, none bigger than two Legends of
the Festival: The great pianist and singer Ray Charles made six
Festival appearances and also had the distinction of giving the first concert in
Festival history on July 2, 1980. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin,
presented two shows at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in 2008.
The Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, performed at Théâtre
Saint-Denis in 1986, and Festival fans have had a chance to hear two of the greats
from New Orleans: Grammy-Award winning singer Irma Thomas took
the stage in 1998, 2008 and 2009, and pianist Allen Toussaint gave
three concerts in 2010. In 2004, The Four Tops and The Temptations
— two hugely popular groups at the height of Motown era — shared the
stage, and The Funk Brothers headlined the Labatt Bleue special
event. The Festival has had the honour of presenting the venerable Blind Boys
of Alabama on five occasions since 1995. British singer Joe Cocker
made his Festival debut 2009, the same year the R&B group Kool & The
Gang marked a return to the Festival after a seven-year absence —
to the great pleasure of the fans who packed the Métropolis that night.
The Next Generation
Canadian Remy Shand is one of several young musicians who've taken
up the soul banner. Shand gave an old-style soul show at the 2002 Fest, while Quebecer
by adoption Corneille showcased his first English soul-funk disc
in 2007. Soul diva Sharon Jones brought the house down in 2003,
and in 2004 British singer Amy Winehouse appeared at the Festival
to present her very first album. Her British counterpart Alice Russell
appeared at the Festival in 2008 and 2009. Also in 2009, the explosive Linda
"Chocolate Thunder" Rodney gave a memorable concert, and
other noteworthy shows included those given by British-born Estelle
and Canadian Divine Brown, two rising R&B stars, and acclaimed
singer-guitarists Jesse Dee and Eli Paperboy Reed.
A Look Back at 2010
R&B, soul and funk fans enjoyed a banner year in 2010, as the Festival played
host to singing greats Ben E. King and Smokey Robinson,
who was presented with the Spirit Award. Also in 2010, the extravagant George
Clinton performed at the Métropolis; opening for him was the
Toronto-based collective God Made ME Funky.
Texas-born singer-guitarist Black Joe Lewis ripped it up on the
outdoor stage, while Quebec singer Nadja got things started for
Smokey Robinson at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. British musician James Hunter
paid a visit to the Place des Festivals one evening, and also presenting her repertoire
under the stars was American singer-songwriter Crystal Monee Hall.