Did you know that the first Black Recording Artist was a man named George W. Johnson? In 1890 Mr. Johnson became the first African American to record commercially. A former slave, he was discovered singing on the streets of Washington, D.C., by Berlinger recording agent Fred Gaisberg. George Johnson's song The Whistling Coon was one of the more popular songs during that time, and the imagery that went along with it was degrading and offensive. However, this was the first of many African American pioneering recordings and songs as Rhythm & Blues encapsulates a history of struggles and triumphs in America and abroad.
From "Race Music" to Rhythm & Blues, the African American musical experience is a history of struggles and triumphs. Race Music was the standard phrase used to identify the "black sound" up until the late1940's. Today's Jazz, Blues, Hip Hop, R&B, Soul, Gospel or any other ethnic sounding music that wasn't sung by a white artist would be categorized as race music.
The "Race Music" term was highly offensive.
In 1949, a new catch phrase was created by Billboard magazine reporter (at the time) Jerry Wexler. The name Rhythm & Blues was born. It was a great marketing term encapsulating the diverse range of the African American multi-musical styles. The sounds were upbeat, swinging, hip and cool. It was the perfect combination of Boggie Woggie Blues, Soul, Rock and heartfelt Jazz. This was a huge breakthrough for the music industry. It was widely accepted and soon mimicked by many American and international white singers, groups and songwriters of all genres. In fact, white performers (during that time) benefited greatly by adding a Rhythm & Blues feel to their sound. Artists like Little Richard, Jackie Wilson and Chuck Berry influenced the likes of Elvis Presly. Billie Holiday had a big influence on many female singers, including the late Amy Winehouse. Heartfelt music is undeniable. It's a language we all hear, understand and feel. It speaks to the heart and calms the weary soul. What a powerful and priceless gift to have. Unfortunately however, not all artists reaped the same financial benefits for their labor of love.
Rhythm & Blues caught on like wild fire. It became an international success as racial divides continue here at home.