‘Rivers of Rhythm’ Episode 5 Goes Head First into the Origins of Rhythm and Blues

“Rhythm and blues, R&B, a sensual blend of the best of African-American music, where the soulfulness of gospel and the blues meets the wild rhythms of jazz. Toss in some swing, funk, folk, rock. Simmer it in a history of struggle and resistance, and you’ve got music with not only a story to tell, but a beat that just won’t quit.” This is how the narrator opens the fifth episode of American Songwriter and Renasant Bank’s six-part video series, Rivers of Rhythm.

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Highlighting the work of the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) to celebrate the accomplishments of Black musicians and artists during Black History Month, the series features interviews with some of today’s artists, alongside perspectives from leading historians and curators.

Episode 5 takes a deep look at the origins and early days of Rhythm and Blues.

“R&B emerges in the years immediately following World War II,” says Dr. Steven Lewis of the National Music of African American Music. “It reflects a couple of different things—number one is the end of the war and with the increased economic prosperity that you have. In Black communities, you have the development of independent African American record labels and you also have an increased number of radio stations that are catering to Black communities.”

“It went from big band, then to small combos for many different reasons, one being a lot of people went off to join the war effort. And then from there, you started to have these new sounds with swing and the swing band era and different beats and rhythms begin to develop and they started to experiment and the sound of R&B, that swing doo-wop, started to be created,” added Dr. Marquita Reed-Wright of the National Museum of African American Music. “The big key for R&B was technology with radio broadcasting and jukebox.”

As the audiences grew and broke color lines, R&B introduced the electric guitar, spurring a new name— Rock n’ Roll— a name applied to market R&B to white teenagers.

“It’s crossing all audiences and young people are becoming charged and excited by the performances of Little Richard, Ray Charles and now all young people are dancing and listening to the same rhythms,” adds Katie Rainge-Briggs of the National Museum of African American Music.

The fifth episode goes on to look at the introduction of Motown and the explosive popularity of R&B.

“R&B featured the day’s most dynamic voices and those voices were becoming more vocal. As the music evolved its artists did too, marching head-on into social commentary and protests.”

Watch the full episode below and check out episodes 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Rivers of Rhythm HEREHERE,  HERE, and HERE.

The final episode of Rivers of Rhythm will premiere here at American Songwriter next week on March 8.

Episode 1: The Music of Africa – Watch HERE.
Episode 2: Spirituals & Gospel – Watch HERE.

Episode 3: The Blues – Watch HERE.
Episode 4: Jazz -Watch HERE.
Episode 5: Rhythm & Blues – Watch Below
Episode 6: Hip Hop – Airs March 8

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