It can’t be overstated how much value the genre of R&B has in our lives. The impressive multitude of songs and the iconic voices singing them are the backdrop to many of our meaningful moments from playlists that get us in the mood for love to those that help us wind down after a stressful day and even those familiar jams that catch our ear while out shopping that will make us break out a little dance.
Of course, appreciating R&B leads us to talk about those beloved performers, which then leads us to talk about the greatest male R&B bands to ever do it. And for some folks out there these days, “talking” equates to “loudly debating with a touch of cursing” and potentially becoming a trending topic on social media.
That leads us to this quick list of the five greatest male R&B bands that we’re presenting here. There might be some questions from a few groups that might not be on this list, and it speaks to just how robust the field of male R&B groups are and what they’ve given to music. With that said, let’s get this groove going.
1. The Jacksons/The Jackson 5
The pride of Gary, Indiana, the Jackson 5 first broke onto the scene in 1968 by opening for Diana Ross in Los Angeles, California. The original group of Michael, Jermaine, Jackie, Tito, and Marlon cemented their legacy with an impressive run on Motown Records including having their first four singles obtain the number one spot on the Billboard 100 chart. They didn’t slow down in popularity as they left Motown for Epic Records in 1976 and brought brother Randy on to take the spot of Jermaine, who stayed on with Motown to pursue his solo career. They became The Jacksons soon after and kept that run going with their Victory tour of 1984 being a highlight on the way to their 1997 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2. The Isley Brothers
The Isley Brothers have been providing soulful stylings since 1954, making it eight decades of classic R&B that spans generations and stands up strong to this day with their first hit, “Shout” charting back in 1959. The group, which originally hailed from Lincoln Heights, Ohio, began as a vocal trio with Ronald, Rudolph and O’Kelly started out doing gospel and transitioned to doo-wop. As they brought on younger brothers Marvin and Ernie and brother-in-law Chris Jasper, their sound grew to incorporate funk and rock & roll and produce classics like “Voyage To Atlantis” and “Footsteps In The Dark”. Their recent Verzuz battle against another legendary R&B group, Earth Wind & Fire in addition to still doing yearly tours proves there’s still a lot of soul left in them.
3. New Edition
The Roxbury, Massachusetts group New Edition broke onto the scene in the early 1980s with a name inspired by the desire to be the next level up from The Jacksons and a captivating sound that featured standout vocals from Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Michael Bivins, and Ricky Bell. The group dominated on the charts even while dealing with turbulence from outside and within, which led to Bobby Brown leaving the group to start a solo career in 1986. Bringing in Johnny Gill in 1987, New Edition continued their success until 1990 when members of the group embarked on their own solo projects resulting in Ricky, Michael, and Ronnie forming BellBivDeVoe. Reuniting in 1996, the group would see themselves come together and go their separate ways often, recording two more studio albums to make it seven total for their career. The entire group is now set to embark on The Culture Tour which will hit 30 cities beginning in February.
4. Earth, Wind, and Fire
Billing themselves as “the mighty elements of the universe”, the band known as Earth, Wind, and Fire have become beloved for their genre-defying musical output blending jazz, funk as well as rock to produce timeless R&B and high-energy concert performances. Beginning in 1970 through the organizing vision of the late Maurice White, EWF steadily gained popularity and crossover appeal with songs that have become cherished in the community like “Keep Your Head To The Sky”, “September” and “Shining Star” as well as doing the soundtrack for Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Incorporating the electric sound into their music, the group went into the 1980s becoming cultural staples with album covers giving off an Afrofuturistic feel and kept that energy up into the 1990s powered by the guitar work of Verdine White and the compelling vocals of Philip Bailey. Today, Earth, Wind, and Fire are still touring to sold-out audiences and their music is interwoven throughout popular culture today.
The 1990’s was a golden moment for R&B as we know it, and Jodeci was right there shining amidst a lot of groups at that time. The Charlotte, North Carolina quartet of brothers K-Ci and JoJo Hailey with Mr. Dalvin and DeVanté Swing burst onto the scene after scoring a deal with Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records in 1991. Their debut album Forever My Lady would be a foundation for the sound of the era which was a keen mixture of Hip-Hop, gospel and new jack swing. Jodeci would add another two hallmark albums to the genre with 1993’s Diary of a Mad Band and The Show, the After Pary, the Hotel, released in 1995. At that point, Jodeci went on a hiatus leading K-Ci & JoJo to embark on solo projects. But the group would still remain in touch, reuniting for their comeback album The Past, The Present, and The Future in 2014. Their influence is still highly recognizable today with artists in R&B and Hip-Hop and soul sampling their hits. Jodeci is set to also be on The Culture Tour with New Edition this year.
Be sure to tune in to 2022 Urban One Honors on Monday, January 17, 2022, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, on TV One and Cleo TV, and carries a theme of “The Soundtrack of Black America.”
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