News / USA

Rich History of Rhythm & Blues Celebrated

Smithsonian Folklife Festival features R&B greats

The Funk Brothers band, a famous R&B group from the 1960s, performs at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
The Funk Brothers band, a famous R&B group from the 1960s, performs at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Multimedia

Chris Simkins

Rhythm and blues. It's an American treasure and a powerful influence on popular culture. The evolution of this art form was celebrated at the Smithsonian’s recent Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington.

Rhythm and blues was invented by African Americans more than 70 years ago. The term "R&B" was originally a marketing tool, but now refers to various musical styles including Gospel and Electric Blues, which was popularized by BB King.  

Seventy years later, R&B is still going strong. At the celebration on the National Mall, thousands - young and old - came out to listen and dance. Some remembered the dance moves from the popular television show "Soul Train," which ran for 35 years. Many at the festival got into the moves and the mood. Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History, kicked off the R&B tribute.   

"I realized this is the music that told us volumes about America, and it was also the kind of music that spoke about pain. It spoke about resiliency," says Bunch. "In some ways it becomes a universal music and then the music is so infectious. You can be anywhere in the world and hear people tapping their toes to Rhythm and Blues because it’s that special.”

Longtime R&B Singer Jerry Williams, known as Swamp Dogg, performed at the Festival. He and his band were influenced by legends of the 40s. "Rhythm and Blues to me is just a good jump song like 'Bad, bad whiskey made me leave my happy home.'"

By the 1950s and 60s, James Brown was thrilling audiences with a new uptempo R&B, a style that went on to define rock and roll.  

It wasn't long before female artists like Diana Ross and the Supremes capitalized on the success of rhythm and blues.

Mable John, the first female recording artist to sign with a Motown label, was at the Smithsonian event. She also backed up the legendary Ray Charles.

"Rhythm and Blues is the beat, it’s the rhythm and it’s the message of the heart," John says. "If your heart is hurting, it expresses that. If your heart is glad, it can express that. If you are just trying to give a message, it can express that. It's the soul."

By the 1970s, R&B groups like the Temptations and, later, Michael Jackson, helped propel R&B worldwide.

Today, R&B is still evolving. With boogie and doo-wop, it's rooted in the deep tributaries of African-American culture. But it’s now a blanket term for music with hard hitting beats, lyrics and melodies that keep people dancing.

It is music that some believe will continue to grow in popularity because it transcends age, race and social class.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs