Jerry Wexler, one of the Founders of Atlantic Records, coined the term “Rhythm & Blues”
[T]he term R&B or “Rhythm and Blues,” was formerly introduced to the world today (June 25, 1949). Ironically, it was introduced the same day the world’s most famous R&B singer, Michael Jackson, died.
Billboard magazine introduced the new description, to replace “Race Records,” which is how the music created by African-Americans was labeled until 1949.
Billboard began tracking African-American music in 1942 as the “Harlem Hit Parade” and by 1945, the term “Race Records” was introduced to describe the genre of music.
Jerry Wexler started working at Billboard magazine in 1949, where he earned $75 a week as a cub reporter and avid jazz fan. In the early 1950’s, he invested in Atlantic records, which at the time was owned by Ahmet Ertegun and Herb and Mariam Abrahamson.
He received a 13% share in the label for $2063.25.
While while it is easy to assume that the term “race records” was a derogatory term, Wexler pointed out that that was not the case. Legendary Billboard editor Paul Ackerman was called a meeting with Jerry Wexler and other staff members, to update the terms of the minority charts, which were archaic.
According to Wexler, the meeting was called on a Friday, he came back the following Tuesday and offered up the term “Rhythm and Blues.”
“And he [Ackerman] said ‘that’s okay, let’s use that.’ That’s how it happened,” Jerry Wexler explained in “Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneers.”
“But I must tell you, people are entitled to the designation of their choice. For example, the various changes in the designation from ‘Negro,’ ‘colored,’ ‘black,’ ‘Afro/African-American’,” Wexler pointed out. “I know that the word ‘race’ at the time was a very noble designation. When you called a black man a ‘race man,’ you meant that he was totally committed to being who he was and that he felt his negritude [and] expressed it. One of the greatest compliments you could give a man is to say, ‘he’s a race man to the bricks.’ That means from the top of his head to the floor, it’s a very fine designation. So I never disapproved of it. However I’m not the registrar of this ballot.”
Wax Fact: The first #1 R&B song under the new chart was Charles Brown’s song “Trouble Blues.”