Black Music Month should be every month. In that spirit, and to celebrate our R&B-themed special issue—which will be rocketing to doorsteps in mere days—we've put together no fewer than 12 playlists delving into the multifaceted history of this most pervasive of popular-music forms. You could enjoy one per month until the next official BMM, or binge 'em. We don't care. But let's begin at the beginning. Here are the first four.

Our story takes off with the jump blues and gospel of the postwar era. As the narrative these playlists are meant to accompany will shortly attest, Louis Jordan provided much of the template for the R&B/rock 'n' roll that followed, profoundly influencing such major figures as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and James Brown. The sanctified, axe-wielding badass Sister Rosetta Tharpe, meanwhile, blazed a trail that leads all the way to H.E.R.

Part 2 begins with some doo-wop classics and then dives deep into classic Motown.

Part 3 is a Memphis-palooza, with Stax/Volt jams, Wilson Pickett grooves and the sweet, sweet sounds of Al Green.

Part 4 is a royal melange of James Brown, Aretha, Nina Simone, Solomon Burke and other regal heavyweights.