The Coasters
Live at the Apollo


Evolving out of jump blues in the late '40s, R&B laid the groundwork for rock & roll. R&B kept the tempo and the drive of jump blues, but its instrumentation was sparer and the emphasis was on the song, not improvisation. It was blues chord changes played with an insistent backbeat. During the '50s, R&B was dominated by vocalists like Ray Charles and Ruth Brown, as well as vocal groups like the Drifters and the Coasters. Eventually, R&B metamorphosed into soul, which was funkier and looser than the pile-driving rhythms of R&B. Soul came to describe a number of R&B-based music styles. From the bouncy, catchy acts at Motown to the horn-driven, gritty soul of Stax/Volt, there was an immense amount of diversity within soul. During the first part of the '60s, soul music remained close to its R&B roots. However, musicians pushed the music in different directions; usually, different regions of America produced different kinds of soul. In urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, the music concentrated on vocal interplay and smooth productions. In Detroit, Motown concentrated on creating a pop-oriented sound that was informed equally by gospel, R&B, and rock & roll. In the South, the music became harder and tougher, relying on syncopated rhythms, raw vocals, and blaring horns. All of these styles formed soul, which ruled the black music charts throughout the '60s and also frequently crossed over into the pop charts. During the '60s and '70s, soul began to splinter apart -- artists like James Brown and Sly Stone developed funk; Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff initiated Philly soul with the O'Jays and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes; and later in the decade, danceable R&B became a mass phenomenon with the brief disco fad. During the '80s and '90s, the polished, less earthy sound of urban and quiet storm ruled the airwaves, but even then, R&B began adding stylistic components of hip-hop until -- by the end of the millennium -- there were hundreds of artists who featured both rapping and singing on their records.

R&B Song Highlights

Title/Composer Performer Stream
What'd I Say, Pts. 1-2
Ray Charles
Respect Aretha Franklin
Superstition Stevie Wonder
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough Michael Jackson
I'm Your Baby Tonight Whitney Houston
Real Love Mary J. Blige
Let's Stay Together Al Green
Love Train The O'Jays
Super Freak Rick James
When Doves Cry Prince
Creep TLC
I Can't Stand Losing You The Ink Spots
Saturday Night Fish Fry Louis Jordan & His Tympany 5
Sixty Minute Man Billy Ward & the Dominoes
Money Honey
Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters
The Great Pretender
The Platters
Duke of Earl Gene Chandler
Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud), Pts. 1-2 James Brown
Dancing in the Street
Martha & the Vandellas
Ain't Too Proud to Beg The Temptations
We're a Winner The Impressions
One Nation Under a Groove Funkadelic
ABC The Jackson 5
Good Times Chic
Mr. Big Stuff Jean Knight
What's Going On Marvin Gaye
I'll Be Around The Spinners
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) Sly & the Family Stone
Fight the Power, Pt. 1 The Isley Brothers
Feel Like Makin' Love Roberta Flack
Easy Commodores
And the Beat Goes On The Whispers
Love Ballad L.T.D.
Juicy Fruit Mtume
Let's Groove Earth, Wind & Fire
I'm Every Woman Chaka Khan
Time Will Reveal DeBarge
Just Be Good to Me The S.O.S. Band
That's the Way Love Goes Janet Jackson
Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) Soul II Soul
One in a Million Aaliyah
Pretty Wings Maxwell
Bills, Bills, Bills Destiny's Child
We Belong Together Mariah Carey
You Don't Know My Name Alicia Keys
Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) Beyoncé
Yeah! Usher
Happy [From Despicable Me 2] Pharrell Williams
Dancing in the Street Martha & the Vandellas

R&B subgenres and styles [+]