Retrospectively referred to as blue beat, “Jamaican rhythm and blues” (JA-R&B) was one of many R&B styles performed and consumed in the UK during the early 1960s. Despite the genre’s importance to African-Caribbean migrant communities, urban subcultures, and, eventually, mainstream British popular music, JA-R&B is often relegated to a side note in the histories of Jamaican ska/reggae and British blues. This essay recuperates the production, emulation, consumption and mediation of JA-R&B into a broader narrative of the British R&B boom, a phenomenon often understood as a precursor to the British Invasion and the (re)birth of rock music as a major force in Anglo-American popular culture. As this essay details, JA-R&B was the product of a complex web of cultural interaction animated by a confluence of black Americans, Jamaicans of various ethnicities (living at home and abroad), and white Britons. The routes by which JA-R&B moved from the relative shadows of the underground Jamaican-settler social scene into the clubs of Soho, to London’s recording studios, and eventually onto the pop charts through British-made recordings are traced here through analysis of contemporaneous discourse found in The West Indian Gazette, Disc, Melody Maker, New Record Mirror, and New Musical Express. I conclude that JA-R&B’s eventual “novelty” status, coupled with apparent anxieties about the growing West Indian immigrant population in Britain, elided the possibility that JA-R&B could be valued on the same terms and by the same standards as “authentic,” American-originated R&B.
Rhythm and Bluebeat: “Jamaican R&B,” Live and on Record, in Early-1960s’ London
Sean Lorre, Ph.D. in musicology from McGill University, is a lecturer at Rutgers University. He designs and teaches online courses on African American musical traditions, rock ‘n’ roll, and country music for the Mason Gross School of the Arts, as well as graduate seminars for Rutgers-Newark’s Jazz History and Research program. Lorre is currently working on a manuscript based on portions of his dissertation, titled “British R&B: A Study of Black Popular Music Revivalism in the United Kingdom, 1960-1964,” and has contributed to the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition and Music in American Life: an Encyclopediaof the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture. He has presented his research at numerous international conferences, including the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, IASPM (U.S. and Canada), and Rhythm Changes.
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Sean Lorre; Rhythm and Bluebeat: “Jamaican R&B,” Live and on Record, in Early-1960s’ London. Journal of Popular Music Studies 3 September 2019; 31 (3): 95–118. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2019.313010
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