Movin' the Mountains: An Overview of Rhythm and Blues and Its Presence in Appalachia

By Zolten, Jerry | Black Music Research Journal, Spring-Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Movin' the Mountains: An Overview of Rhythm and Blues and Its Presence in Appalachia


Zolten, Jerry, Black Music Research Journal


Think of Appalachian music and, initially, the associations are likely Anglo. Terms like "bluegrass," "country," "old-timey," "string band," "hillbilly," and "mountain music" spring to mind. However, given the enormous sweep of Appalachia--from the northeast corner of Mississippi across northern Alabama, through northern Georgia to the western corner of South Carolina, then on north through adjacent sections of North Carolina and Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky, all of West Virginia, across to Ohio, and into Pennsylvania before finally trailing off in southern New York State--logic dictates that African-American music in all its manifestations, rhythm and blues included, must have been a part of the historical regional mix. Indeed, rhythm and blues was and continues to be a viable presence in the Appalachian cultural region.

Whereas older genres of African-American music--blues, jazz, gospel--blossomed early in the twentieth century, rhythm and blues flowered at midcentury, a time when mass media sources, especially radio and records, afforded access literally to any ears that cared to listen. Riding in on the airwaves, rhythm and blues from its inception reached every corner of Appalachia. As a result, while it was initially a black performance genre marketed to black audiences, rhythm and blues rapidly developed cross-ethnic appeal, as Hugh Gregory (1998, 7) observed, "to include a young, white audience" and in the process achieved "a wider ... influence," opening the way for early rock and roll. In fact, the two genres--rhythm and blues and rock and roll--were for a time virtually synonymous when in the early 1950s, Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed began playing rhythm and blues for white teens, calling it "rock and roll."

Early Rhythm and Blues as a Genre

Rhythm and blues, or more familiarly, R&B, arguably had a "pure" period, according to the late musicologist and producer Arnold Shaw (1978, xv), in "the era, post-swing to pre-Beatles (1945-60), when the style flowered and established itself as an identifiable sound." Later, Shaw (1986, 166-167) defined "pure" R&B as an "indigenous black music played by small combos," and he distinguished three principal characteristics: "'The beat' (rather than the accented downbeat of pop music, accent on upbeats or afterbeats), singing style (rather than the 'resonant vibrato of pop,' a more 'raw, shouting style'), and instrumentation (electric guitar and saxophone in the spotlight)."

But the music was always more than a mere genre. "Rhythm and blues," wrote Stanley Booth (1991, 73), "is the music of the Negro masses." According to Nelson George (1988, x), R&B is a style of music but also a cultural demarcator. R&B, he wrote, has "been an integral part of (and ... a powerful symbol for) a black community forged by common political, economic, and geographic conditions." It is not simply R&B, he contends, but a "rhythm and blues world." Indeed, R&B would be the primary music of the post-World War II generation of African Americans who fought victoriously on the domestic front for equal rights under the law.

In the years immediately following World War II, when the music began to be identified as a genre, R&B was indeed an eclectic mix centered on small combos, groups of four, five, six, or so in number. Rather than rising up out of any particular geographic region, R&B was a cumulative amalgam, bringing under one umbrella a diversity of black musical styles from across the country.

Some of the late-1940s R&B hits were straightforward instrumentals performed by combos primarily made up of drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic piano, and saxophone. Others, the majority in fact, featured combos fronted by blues-based singers, both male and female; some were "shouters," to use Arnold Shaw's term, while others were more mellow.

Another facet of R&B was the vocal harmony group. These groups "jumped" the rhythm and infused stage performance and lyric with sexuality and innuendo, reflecting the liberated tastes of a younger generation free from the weight of war.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Movin' the Mountains: An Overview of Rhythm and Blues and Its Presence in Appalachia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.