When Was the Golden Age of R&B?

By Daniel McAdam.

There are a lot of ways to restate the question posed above, but few if any methods to answer the question satisfactorily. Let's start with the restatements:

What's the time period for old school R&B music?

When did they play classic R&B?

The problem, of course, is one of definition. No one can agree on what "golden age" or "old school" or "classic" means. Very few can agree on what "R&B" or "rhythm and blues" means. Suggest a time period for classic R&B, and someone will immediately say that you left something out before or after that time period. Realizing, then, that I've set off on a fool's errand, I'll continue and provide an answer that will at least serve as food for thought.

Let's start with what is meant by R&B. Wikipedia says R&B is, ". . . a genre of popular African-American music that originated in the 1940s." Urban Dictionary says it's, ". . . upbeat, funky music that started in the 60s with the Motown era." (Already, we have disagreement on a start date.) Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary has perhaps the worst of many bad definitions, claiming R&B is, ". . . a  folk-based  form  of  black  popular  music  forerunning  rock." Yeah, sure. So, in other words, you think all those R&B acts were folksingers, and that R&B disappeared once rock music came along. Like they say, there's a lot of knowledge you can't get in college.

Here's what I think. R&B, also known as rhythm and blues music, is:

  • A style of music developed almost exclusively by African Americans that;
  • Combines the chordal structure of blues with the improvisational techniques of jazz and a strong backbeat, and;
  • Strongly influenced the development of American rock and roll while also continuing to exist and thrive independently alongside rock, and;
  • Eventually morphed into a variety of genres, including soul, funk, disco, hip hop and contemporary R&B..

We can accept that the pre-Golden Age of R&B was the 1950s, with great artists like Bo Diddley and Little Richard. Some might include Chuck Berry, though he is of course tied more strongly to rock and roll in most folk's minds, and there are others. In any case, those artists works were often referred to as "oldies" throughout the two decades following the 1950s.

Which brings us to the 1960's. I'll make my argument for this time period by listing a sampling of a few notable R&B recordings by year.



Barrett Strong - Money (That's What I Want)

Ray Charles - Georgia On My Mind

Sam Cooke - Chain Gang



Ben E. King - Stand By Me

Etta James - At Last

Jimmy Reed - Bright Lights Big City

Ray Charles - Hit The Road Jack



Booker T and the MG's - Green Onions

Isley Brothers - Twist and Shout

Otis Redding - These Arms of Mine

Solomon Burke - Cry to Me



Marvin Gaye - Pride and Joy

Miracles - You've Really Got a Hold On Me



Irma Thomas - Wish Someone Would Care

Otis Redding - Mr. Pitiful

Otis Redding - That's How Strong My Love Is



James Brown - Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

Otis Redding - I've Been Loving You Too Long

Otis Redding - Respect (Otis Redding wrote this song)

Ramsey Lewis - The "In" Crowd

Solomon Burke - Tonight's the Night

Wilson Pickett - In the Midnight Hour



Jimmy Ruffin - What Becomes of the Brokenhearted

Percy Sledge - When A Man Loves A Woman

Sam & Dave - Hold On, I'm Coming

Stevie Wonder - Up Tight



Aaron Neville - Tell It Like It Is

Aretha Franklin - Respect

Sam & Dave - Soul Man




Aretha Franklin - Chain of Fools

Clarence Carter - Slip Away

Etta James - Tell Mama

Otis Redding - I've Got Dreams to Remember (posthumously, with Carla Thomas)

Sly & The Family Stone - Dance to the Music



Isley Brothers - It's Your Thing

Marvin Gaye - I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Sly & The Family Stone - Everyday People


Looking at the list objectively, a person could make a reasonably good argument that the Golden Age of R&B extended from 1964 (It would be hard to exclude Mr. Pitiful or That's How Strong My Love Is) through 1968 (again, you can't really exclude Slip Away, Chain of Fools or Tell Mama). Right in the middle of this time period are undeniable classics, like Aretha Franklin's Respect, Sam & Dave's Soul Man, and Wilson Pickett's The Midnight Hour. Oh, and did I mention Percy Sledge's When A Man Loves A Woman?

Five years - 1964 through 1968 - might be a little restrictive, so it makes sense to just include the entire decade. And there you have it. Whatever else you may associate the 1960s with, those years were, indisputably, the Golden Age of R&B.





Copyright © Daniel McAdam· All Rights Reserved