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C. 1890-1920






    The rise of Pentecostal churches gives impetus to the development of gospel music. Pentecostal shouting is related to speaking in tongues and to the “ring shout”- slavery-era religious practices with origins in circle dances from Africa. Pentecostal churches utilize secular performance styles and melodies in their services, embellishing worship with full instrumental accompaniment and melodic and rhythmic influence from the blues.

    W.C. Handy formalizes the harmonic structure of the blues into the 12 bar-, three chord configurations familiar today.

    Bessie Smith’s “Downhearted Blues” becomes the first blues song recorded by an African-American to top the charts.   

    Syd Nathan found the King label in Cincinnati. Hank Ballard, Little Willie John, Charles Brown and Wyninie Harris will all find success on King. “The Godfather of Soul,” James Brown, will record his most important hits for the label.

    Country and city blues begin to fuse with riff-based remnants of big-band jazz and lead to an alternative to bebop jazz that is both highly danceable and hugely popular, called “jump.” Jump uses the blues form and harmonic patterns, and it emphasizes heavy stress on the backbeat. This music will become known as R&B in 1949. Another form of R&B is primarily vocal. The style employs close harmonies and is nearly always performed in a medium-to-slow tempo. Groups like the Ink Spots exemplify this style, which is a direct precursor to doowop.

    Billboard reporter Jerry Wexler introduces the term “Rhythm and Blues” to replace “race music,” which music intended for distribution in the African-American community has been called in the industry since the earliest days of sound recording.