Black Music History Playlists


R&B, or “rhythm and blues,” was a term created by record labels in the 1940s as a term for music being marketed mostly towards Black listeners. The title of “rhythm and blues'' was typically used for blues records in the early days of the genre, but by the late 80s the term was being used for an entirely new genre that combined rhythm, blues, pop, soul, and funk. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, songs like Sonny Thompson’s Long Gone were considered to be R&B, despite the sound not matching the more widely-accepted, contemporary style of R&B we hear today. During the late ‘50s, the R&B style of music became linked with rock and roll while still remaining its own entity, and artists like Little Richard popularized the combination of genres, inspiring other musicians at the time such as Elvis Presley and Otis Redding. In the ‘60s, R&B was considered as soul music and artists like Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye were at the top of the R&B charts. This kind of R&B paved the way for disco music in the ‘70s and ‘80s and also cemented the style as a mixture of soul, funk, and jazz.

The R&B sound people are most familiar with today began in the 1990s and adds hip-hop elements to the previous mixture of genres. Girl groups like Destiny’s Child, SWV, and TLC dominated the R&B scene and set the tone for the 21st century. Today, some of the biggest names in music, such as SZA and Brent Faiyaz, make R&B music. In the past 20 years, R&B has been one of the most popular genres in music!


Happy Black Music Month! This week we’re celebrating Black artists who have shaped country music. While the genre has been dominated by White musicians in recent years, country music was pioneered by Black creatives hundreds of years ago.

The banjo, one of the most essential instruments used in country music, is a direct relative of a West African instrument called the Akonting. During the Atlantic slave trade, the banjo was brought over to the US and was widely considered a Black instrument. During the colonial period, African American instrumentalists began using the violin, otherwise known as the fiddle, in their music. The combination of the fiddle and banjo in a single ensemble paved the way for genres like bluegrass and folk. This kind of music was also commonly used in minstrel shows during the 1850s, which led to the popularization of the country style of music in the 1920s and ‘30s. The music was mostly popular in the American south, and Black country artists frequently collaborated with White musicians on commercial records in the genre despite how deeply segregated the US was at the time.

As country music started to gain popularity, record labels began excluding Black artists from the genre by not crediting them as collaborators and only selling records with White artists on the covers, thus turning country into “White music.”

Although the narrative around Country has changed, it’s extremely important to acknowledge the Black artists who made the genre what it is. In 1927, DeFord Bailey became the first person to perform at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, which is a landmark for country music. Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Charley Pride was considered to be country’s “first Black superstar,” having 29 number 1 country hits in his lifetime. In 1962, Ray Charles released his album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,” in which he covered country songs, but reworked them to fit R&B, pop, and jazz styles.

Black country artists continue to make music despite often being overshadowed by White musicians. Groups like the Carolina Chocolate Drops and The War and Treaty carry on Black country music’s long history, and major artists like Beyoncé and Shaboozey have been keeping it in the mainstream.


The Rock and Roll style of music pulls its influence from several other genres, many of which were created by Black musicians: blues, gospel, R&B, and country are all linked to the origins of rock music. The name “Rock ‘n Roll” began appearing in the mainstream in the 1950s when radio DJ Alan Freed began calling his show “Moondog’s Rock and Roll Party,” – a show which hosted the music of rock and roll artists like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and other Black rock and roll pioneers. Ike Turner’s 1958 song “Rocket 88” is considered the first record to be officially categorized as a rock record and in the following few years, Black artists dominated the genre. During the mid-late 60s, rock and roll saw the emergence of icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, and Sly & The Family Stone. Even as rock became overwhelmingly favored by White artists and fans, Black musicians were often helping to write the songs being performed by people like Bob Dylan, and the voices of Black gospel singers such as Merry Clayton often appeared in rock songs. In the 70s and 80s, it became more difficult for Black rock artists to gain recognition, which led to the founding of the Black Rock Coalition in 1985, which was created to help support and develop Black alternative music. Some of the most beloved artists of all time were Black rock musicians, such as Prince and Tina Turner, who is considered to be the queen of the genre. Without these trailblazers, rock ‘n roll wouldn’t be what it is today!


Before the '70s, "disco" wasn't exactly a genre but instead a place. The '30s and '40s in Europe welcomed the popularization of dance parties with DJs -- something that the French called a "discotheque." By the mid-'60s, discos had hit the United States and were hugely popular with the LGBTQ and African-American communities.

The early 1970s birthed the name for the music playing in these spaces – “disco.” The earliest songs to fall under the disco genre were performed by Black artists. Songs like “Soul Makossa,” by Cameroonian artist Manu Dibango and Eddie Kendrick’s “Girl You Need a Change of Mind” helped put disco on the map. The height of disco occurred in the mid-’70s and the era was dominated by Black musicians. In 1974, Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” became the best-selling single of the year and in 1975, Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” (named for the popular dance often done in disco clubs) hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. During this time, many artists under Motown Records adopted the disco sound, like Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye.

1978 brought timeless disco classics such as “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “Blame It on the Boogie” by the Jacksons, but the years following would show a quick decline in the popularity of disco music. At the end of the 1970s, the public opinion around music became increasingly anti-disco and instead favored rock music. The fall of disco can be accredited to bigotry towards the Black and gay communities, as well as rock fans’ anger towards the heavily-produced sound.

Despite the growing distaste for the genre, disco would soon help inspire a brand new wave of music that was popular in Black communities: Hip Hop. Many of the earliest hip hop and rap songs sampled disco songs, and the two-turntable style of DJing was popularized in disco clubs. For a period of time, old school hip-hop was even referred to as “disco rap” due to disco’s deep influence on the genre.