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R&B: ALIVE
AND THRIVING

I’ve heard it said that R&B’s best days are behind it. I beg to differ—as an artist-development/media strategist, former radio personality and board member of the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM), I’m here to state unequivocally that R&B is alive and thriving.

NMAAM President Henry Beecher Hicks III, our curators, staff, my fellow board members and I are advocates for the preservation and perpetuation of Black music, a mission we’re achieving thanks to a newly opened 56,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Nashville facility housing seven galleries and the 200-seat Roots Theater. We are a history museum, but we acknowledge the work of today’s artists and support future generations of music makers.

I was asked recently what I think of contemporary R&B artists. I smiled and affirmed that they are a crop of mindful inheritors creating sweet soul music and gaining cultural momentum in the process.

Among the better known of these, of course, is singer/songwriter/guitarist and overall badass H.E.R., who reigns supreme, invoking Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and D’Angelo (and who recently performed two magical duets on D’s VERZUZ at the Apollo Theater).

Jazmine Sullivan, who released Heaux Tales this year, sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and performed on TV One’s Urban One Honors, has served notice that this former child singer is now grown and dishing up a brand of real-deal R&B that recalls the work of Patti LaBelle and other power-forward soul singers.

Add to this rank Summer Walker, SZA, Jhené Aiko, GIVĒON and Daniel Caesar, with Keedron Bryant, Lucky Daye, Ella Mai, Queen Naija, Ambré, Angelica Vila, Nicole Bus, Candice Boyd, Joelle James and Ayanis coming on strong. Not to mention producer/songwriter Amorphous, who just released his debut single, “Back Together,” featuring Kehlani.

South African shining star Elaine, who cites Lauryn Hill as her primary influence, is having a sizable impact on her home continent and starting to ignite interest in America and elsewhere.

Nashville’s Bren Joy adds his tenor to the musical landscape, forging his own brand of R&B distinguished by clever songwriting and infusions of jazz and gospel. Masego, a singer, saxophonist and composer, continues the tradition of Grover Washington Jr. and George Howard. The smokey-voiced Raiche made an impressive debut with her EP, Drive. And Brooklyn band Phony Ppl are musicians in the mold of Mint Condition.

Then there are producer/songwriters Claude Kelly & Chuck Harmony (aka the duo Louis York), whose Weirdo Workshop has bestowed upon us The Shindellas (Tamara Chauniece, Kasi Jones and Stacy Johnson). The trio’s vocal harmonies bring to mind The Pointer Sisters, The Emotions, Sister Sledge and The Jones Girls.

Shout-outs as well to Landstrip Chip, Joyce Wrice, Victory, Suzann Christine, Rated Art, Katlyn Nichol, Alex Isley and Idia Gamble.

So to the naysayers and doubters: I do hereby declare that this generation of creatives is making substantial contributions to R&B. The aforementioned artists and many others are promoting the beauty of soul and honoring the legacies of the greats we represent at the National Museum of African American Music.

An essential figure in the establishment of Black Music Month as a nationally recognized institution, Dyana Williams is the founder/CEO of Influence Entertainment. Her radio handle during the glorious days of ’70s R&B was Ebony Moonbeams.

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