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by Jason Gubbels

November 26, 2013

1950s R&B Hits

by Jason Gubbels  |  November 26, 2013

In the summer of 1949, Billboard magazine replaced its "Race Records" chart with a new "Rhythm & Blues Records" designator at the suggestion of Jerry Wexler, a noted music journalist soon to turn record producer and A&R man. The Race Records chart had itself replaced Billboard's earlier "Harlem Hit Parade," which had tracked top-charting blues and jazz performances since 1942. Clearly, the powers that be had trouble deciding what to call the hot new music burning up dancefloors and bandstands across the country, but "rhythm & blues" as a concept seems to have stuck: 60 years later, "R&B" remains a catchall term for specific strains of American music, even if the blues aspect has mostly disappeared (the rhythm isn't going anywhere).

R&B has always encompassed a variety of styles, from country blues to big band swing, from mambo rhythms to boogie-woogie, from gospel to doo-wop. These diverse sounds were in full force throughout the 1950s, a decade in which jump blues helped give birth to rock 'n' roll even as church-trained singers began laying the foundation for what became known as soul.

Our playlist spans 10 years and many hits of varying degrees from the 1950s, from Billboard chart toppers to regional smashes (and a few obscurities thrown in for good measure). And while it may seem that many of these songs have little in common with contemporary R&B, similarities to Rihanna and Chris Brown aren't hard to spot -- Peppermint Harris ("I Got Loaded"), Dinah Washington ("Big Long Slidin' Thing") and Etta James ("The Wallflower [Dance With Me, Henry]") celebrate the joys of the club almost as explicitly as any 2013 hitmaker.

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