Rhythm and blues, in its most modern definition, is soul and funk-based style of pop music that started during disco but truly flourished well after disco’s death. Originally, however, in the 1940s rhythm and blues was a term coined as a non-offensive way to refer to African-American music. As the form carried on, it slowly began to lose the stigma as a non-racist moniker and became a truly influential and important genre of music not necessarily particular only to African Americans.
Rhythm and blues, influenced by jazz and gospel music, is often credited as being the originator of modern pop music; it has heavily influenced both rock and hip-hop music, two of the biggest music markets today. It came into popularity in America in the 1950s, just prior to rock and roll’s thriving inception, and overlapped with the very popular jazz music of the time. As rock and roll grew in America, so did rhythm and blues; rock and roll fans often listened to rhythm and blues, just as rhythm and blues fans sometimes latched on to rock on roll.
The Bubble-Gum Rock of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s grew out of the rhythm and blues of the 40’s — everyone from Elvis to Ricky Nelson to Fats Domino was strongly influenced by the R&B musicians that preceeded them.
Rhythm and blues hit big in the UK in the 1960s, as well; however, the distinction between rock and roll and rhythm and blues was far more pronounced. The UK rhythm and blues scene (which eventually morphed into soul) was largely embraced by a scene of mostly teenagers known as mods. These rhythm and blues fans differed greatly from the rockers, who listened only to rock and roll and held rhythm and blues (and the mods that went with it) in high disdain. The social dysfunction between these two groups caused large problems within the combined music scenes of rhythm and blues and rock and roll; the characteristic tension is documented in “Quadrophenia,” a fictional movie depicting fairly non-fictional situations.
As decades passed and rhythm and blues grew in popularity in the United States and abroad, it shifted shapes and became known as simply R&B, a slower, more melodic version of the original rhythm and blues form that is often seen as the modern counterpart to hip-hop.