R&B as a musical genre has been around longer than the 1940s. However, R&B or RnB as far as a name didn’t exist on music charts or records released until the 1940s. Also included among race records were blues, comedy, gospel, and jazz.
The most important record label in pushing this term was OKeh Records’ musical director Ralph Peer. Before Black music, OKeh Records focused on European folk tunes and vaudeville recordings. When the label released Black music it was as “race music.”
Mamie Smith was the first performer to be associated with race music in promotional material with OKeh Records calling her “Our Race Artist.” The few music labels of the period would follow suit in promoting Black music in this fashion. On the Billboards, there was a “Harlem Hit Parade” category between 1942 and 1945. The charts were renamed “Race Records” later in 1945.
It wasn’t until June 1949 that R&B became the term used in the charts. Writer turned music producer Jerry Wexler made the suggestion to change the name. As a result, he is often credited with the name “rhythm and blues.”. Wexler would go on to produce for Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin among other major musical acts.
The R&B charts would undergo a number of name changes while still being a catch-all term for Black music depending on what was popular at the time. For instance, now it’s known as “Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs” while between 1969 and 1982 soul was the focus with “Best Selling Soul Singles” and “Hot Soul Singles.”