Looking Back: The Origins of Rhythm and Blues

Many lives have been enriched by the rhythm and blues, or R&B, genre. This evocative music, yet, from whence did it originate? Join me on a journey into the annals of R&B’s origins.

A Fusion of Customs

R&B did not originate in a desert. It arose in the United States’ African-American communities in the 1940s, influenced by a variety of musical styles:


Rooted in the blues, which often deals with personal struggles and conveys stories via music, R&B has its roots in this musical style.


R&B built on jazz’s improvisatory spirit and rhythmic drive to create music that is both exciting and easy to dance to.


R&B was also influenced by gospel music, which is known for its spiritual energy and soulful vocals.

The Great Migration

Millions of African Americans left the rural South for the cities of the North and West during the Great Migration, which played a significant role in the development of R&B. A new sound emerged as a result of the fusion of previously separate musical traditions.

The Origin of a Word

“Rhythm and blues” came into use in the late 1940s to replace the more disparaging “race music.” Soulful rhythm and blues were encapsulated by R&B.


The strength of musical fusion is demonstrated by R&B. A sound that has inspired and resonated with musicians and listeners for generations was born from the merging of blues, jazz, and gospel. Rhythm and blues have a long and storied past, so the next time you hear a moving song, think about it.

Time Signatures, Bars and Barlines