Rhythm & Blues and the LGBTQ Community

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Rhythm and Blues, commonly known as R&B, is a form of musical style that first emerged in the African-American community throughout the 1920s to the 1940s. It is a musical style born out of American slavery. It has a close association with jazz music, taking on the same moody, melancholic style and beat of music but with more syncopation in the music and a strong bass backbeat. There is a heavy emphasis on the lyrics in R&B, which are usually sensual in content.

R&B is considered the precursor to Rock & Roll, especially as developed by popular singers such as Elvis Presley. Today, it is also closely associated with Hip Hop music.

The LGBTQ community has had a large presence in the R&B community from the beginning. Lesbians Ma Rainey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Gladys Bentley and Bessie Smith are considered to be some of the founders of this style of music. Their songs remain well known and popular today. Earlier, lesbian singer Alberta Hunter's 'Downhearted Blues' album was the best selling album of 1923 in America.

There are many contemporary LGBTQ R&B singers that have had a great influence in the music world. Great Britain's and Canada's Long John Baldry is known for nurturing and bringing such great musicians and groups such as Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, and Paul McCartney to prominence. Gay American singer Luther Vandross sold over 25 million records during his lifetime.

We have identified the following notable individuals from the Rhythm and Blues community. Simply click on their names to read their fascinating biographies.


Great Britain



United States

See Also

Further Reading/Research

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