When did R&B/rock'n'roll become seperate genres?

When reading one of those “history of rock and roll” articles recently, it suprised me how a lot of the acts usually called “rock and roll” (Fats Domino, Ray Charles, tons of doo wop acts) sound like straight ahead R&B to my mid-30s ears. When rock and roll broke in the fifties, were these acts considered rock too? If so, why? Did R&B fans listen to non-R&B rock or vice versa? And when did the two genres start being considered distinct genres?

What I have a vague memory of is that what we now refer to as R&B was “Race Music” back in the day and RnR was a white approximation of that sound. The Rockabilly offshoot that Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl and Johnny were headlining at Sun Records, along with the Bill Haley crowd’s slant on it led some DJ’s (Allan Freed, for one) to dub the white stuff as Rock ‘n’ Roll. The sub-genres of both styles have gone far afield, merging at times, since then.

There have to be at least 20 and more likely upwards of 50 sub-genres by now.

Correction too late for the edit window: ALAN Freed

R&B = black artists
Rock and Roll = white artists (often remaking R&B hits).

Yup. The transition time (semantically) might be c. 1967-1969, between when The Who could style themselves as “Maximum R and B” and the (more R and B rooted) Rolling Stones started declaring themselves the “greatest rock’n’roll band in the world.”

ETA: That’s when the terms started getting all mixed up. Very soon thereafter, “rock’n’roll” fell almost into disuse (replaced by “rock”), and R and B fell under the radar, to be revived circa 1990 to refer to a highly produced black-oriented music which contained neither rhythm nor blues.

There may be more detail than you asked for but some fun reading anyway at Wikipedia’s article on Rock and roll

I think Fats Domino made the point in an interview I have on tape. It was the fifties, and he was asked how long he’d been playing Rock ‘n’ Roll. He said he didn’t know about Rock ‘n’ Roll, but he’d been playing Rhythm and Blues for twelve years.

You still get these debates about what exactly was the first Rock ‘n’ Roll record, though I find the first thing that must be sorted out is to tease apart the multiple definitions of Rock ‘n’ Roll people have in mind – is it black music being listened to by white teenagers, is it a blend of R&B and Country, is it a generic term for youth-oriented music of a period, is it white artists arrogating black music to themselves? Well, the term has been used for all of these, but when we’re talking about the relation of Rock ‘n’ Roll to R&B, this is a good place for me to push for what I think is indisputably the origin of the term as applied to music: Rock ‘n’ Roll is a term Alan Freed used to promote R&B.

Now, those R&B sounds of the period weren’t new. There was continuity to a tradition that went back at least to the 30’s, and depending on what you focus on, even further back. It was merely newly promoted to teens, betting that kids would dig this stuff if they had a chance to hear it. Many did, and for good reason. One thing that’s been lost in the diffusion of the term Rock ‘n’ Roll is that those were some damn good sides Freed was spinning.

But Freed himself also promoted the many white acts that popped up imitating those sounds, and even blending them with whiter sounds. The meaning of the term then changed almost immediately, but not because Freed had violated some kind of sacred vision. I don’t think Bill Haley happened in response to Freed, I think they were both responding to the same zeitgeist. It would actually been strange to reject other, related movements in popular music.

However, it was definitely not the case that it was R&B when blacks were doing it, but Rock ‘n’ Roll otherwise. Too many black acts were promoted as Rock ‘n’ Roll, and too many blacks sang songs about Rock ‘n’ Roll. However, I can’t think of any white acts that were described as R&B in the same period. Eventually you get something called ‘blue-eyed soul’ which is beyond my personal bailiwick, but it must go at least as far back as Timi Yuro, whose first hit was recorded in 1961. I don’t know what genre she was promoted under, but now we wouldn’t dream of using a label other than R&B or Soul.

The whiter shade of Rock ‘n’ Roll appeared so quickly and existed in parallel with the promotion of race records under the label that you can’t say it was either black music or black-inspired white music. Indeed, many of the great R&B records of the era were written by Lieber and Stoller, who were jewish. It was at minimum two subgenres that arose together and which seemed sufficiently to embody the same ‘spirit’ that people didn’t see the distinction that seems so clear to us now in retrospect.

But the whiter sound did sort of take over. at some point in the early sixties you stopped getting any new black groups promoted as Rock ‘n’ Roll. The Showmen may have been the last. More than a few singers reappeared in the soul scene that arose. And this was about the time that people new to the Rock ‘n’ Roll genre didn’t see any problem considering Pat Boone’s version of Tutti Fruiti Rock ‘n’ Roll. It all happened so quickly.

Excellent summary. Thank you! :cool:

This does a decent job, given a quick scan…

Bah, labels! There are only two kinds of music, good and bad. And everyone’s opinion differs on that.