DESCRIPTION

New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz, but it was also crucial in the development of another major genre of African American music: rhythm and blues. Emerging in the late ’40s, classic R&B was born from jazz, but added many of the aggressive beats that would soon find their way into rock and roll. In New Orleans, R&B took on uniquely Afro-Caribbean elements, thanks in part to the mambo-derived “rumba-boogie” of Professor Longhair. The New Orleans sound is characterized by rollicking pianos, complex rhythms, and, much of the time, a certain melancholy tone. As singer Irma Thomas, the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” has said, the city is a place where “[w]e hear extra sounds in our heads — extra beats, extra backbeats, extra rhythms that people from other parts of the United States just don’t understand or get.”

Emerging in the late ’40s, classic R&B was born from jazz, but added many of the aggressive beats that would soon find their way into rock and roll

New Orleans R&B flourished in the 1950s and 60s, and some artists, such as Fats Domino and Huey “Piano” Smith, gained national recognition. For the most part, however, it remained a distinctively local phenomenon, and hundreds of top-caliber artists, many working out of Cosimo Matassa’s famed J&M Recording Studio in the French Quarter, recorded one or two singles before being forgotten. By the late 1960s, New Orleans music had largely moved on to funkier material, though songs of the R&B era, such as “Mother-in-Law” and “Lil’ Liza Jane” remain in the repertoires of nearly every local musician.