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R&B Musicians in the 70’s and Their Powerful Impact

Musicians in the 70s had an amazing impact on me as a kid growing up in Buffalo, New York. I felt that I had a special connection with musicians in the 70’s.

I was very young, but my babysitter was married to a football player who played for the Buffalo Bills, and she was very good friends with many of the DJs from the local radio stations WBLK and WUFO. 

Musicians in the 70's, musicians in the 70s

Her name is Barbara Smith; his name was Allen Smith. She was really into music to the extent that she had all the promotional records, and she was good friends with many of the popular DJs who in turn, were friends with the musicians in the 70s. The DJs would come by and tell stories about how they were promoting their own shows, and we’re good friends with many of the R&B stars from the 70s.

Of course, I was too young to understand the meaning or the concept of what the R&B musicians from the 70s were saying. I didn’t know what love was or the angst of unrequited love, but this is the period that has been like no other in the history of music. Music from the 70s had some of the best singers, the best writers, the best harmony, and the most powerful and melodic songs in R&B history.

I’d like to take you on a short journey of what the 70s was like for me and for the music industry, which I came to know well as a young child growing up in Buffalo, NY.

As an adult, I now understand what all those songs meant and how well they were performed. Today I’d like to pay tribute to R&B music and musicians in the 70s. 

70s music was a revolutionary period for black people in pride and R&B music. We made undeniable fashion statements, and black music addressed the issues of racism and war (Marvin Gaye), Black pride (James Brown), and love for ourselves and our community (Earth Wind & Fire). In addition, some of the BEST love songs were made with 70s music still played on the air at many radio stations today. Here are 10 reason’s why 70s music won’t die. 

Marvin Gaye Marvin Gaye personified the decade, breaking out in the early 70s with MONSTER 70s music hits and closing out the 70s with even more. Rumor is his masterpiece album What’s Going On was literally laughed at in a Motown meeting and shelved. 

Marvin was WAY ahead of his time, and he is haunting today’s music industry with a vengeance. Interest in him has exploded into a generation that wasn’t even born when he died because of Robin Thicke’s smash Blurred Lines. The family of Marvin may be suing but watch Marvin’s music sales skyrocket.

The Absolute BEST Groups and Singers

Many legendary groups in the 70s had such incredible 70s music they can never be duplicated again. The Stylistics, The Chi Lites, Marvin, and James Brown brilliantly combined political issues and self-esteem themes to music that filled the dance floors. 

musicians in the 70's

The Supremes were a whole new group in the 70s who, some say, were even better after Diana Ross’ departure. They started the 70s off talking about everything from being high, “Stoned Love” to War to the gospel-tinged “Up The Ladder to the Roof, their first single and a big hit for Motown. Micheal Jackson was a child prodigy and he was outrageously talented, and he catapulted The Jackson 5 to have hit after hit. It’s incredibly hard to fathom that he was not originally in the group, and Jermaine was the lead singer. Gladys Knight and the Pips were making some of the best-written love songs on the planet.

And New Birth was an amazing band with amazing singers, and many independent labels were able to shine with major hits like The Five Stairsteps, The Temprees, and The Delphonics.

Dance Music 

It was the BEST period for various sounds, from the dance music of James Brown and Rufus Thomas to Chic and The Ohio Players. Groups were to the extremes when it came to variation but it all blended well. Some may call it “Disco,” but many would dare to differ that Chic, Cameo, or Cheryl Lynn’s Got to be Real were disco records.

The Marriage of Radio, Retail, and Record Labels

It was the decade when Radio, Records, and Retail worked hand-in-hand together to take a hit all the way to the top with fans. Radio played it and announced what they were playing, and record labels worked directly with DJs to play their music and host local concerts bringing some of the biggest groups to town. Radio created a top 40 list of what they played each week and gave it to the records stores, and consumers used that list to buy music.

Black Owned Labels

Motown Records and Philadelphia International were two black-owned labels and they were HUGE. They were dominating the charts, and we may never see another monster black-owned label again. Many think Stax was black-owned, but it was not. It was founded by a white brother and sister, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, who combined their last names to come up with Stax. 70s Music: The Most Hits

There were more black groups in the 70s with more hits than any other period of music., T reaction Still Strong Today and Radio stations are still having great success with formats that play black music from the 70s

Old School Limits

“Old School” music is only linked to music from the 70s. 8os and 90s music doesn’t work as well as 70s for radio formats.

Musicians Stepped out of the “Black” realm.

It was a very BOLD period in music where black musicians tried anything. Barry White had an orchestra which was unheard of. Isaac Hayes has 18 minutes songs on his albums, and some of his biggest hits were rehashed and remade. I Stand Accused is a must-hear (originally recorded by Jerry Butler). By the time I get to Phoenix, Never Can Say Goodbye was all recorded by other artists (Glen Campbell and The Jackson Five). War was a huge topic in Black music during the Nixon era and Viet Nam.

Soul Train

Soul Train was a popular American television show that aired from 1971 to 2006. Created and hosted by Don Cornelius, the show significantly promoted African-American music and culture, particularly in the genre of soul and R&B.

Soul Train featured a unique format combining live performances by renowned artists, energetic dance routines, and interviews with emerging and established musicians. The show became a platform for showcasing talent, and many notable artists, including Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson, among others, made appearances on the show.

One of the most iconic aspects of Soul Train was its signature dance line, where a diverse group of dancers would showcase their moves down the “Soul Train line.” The show popularized dance styles such as the “Robot” and the “Moonwalk,” contributing to the cultural influence of the program.

Soul Train entertained audiences and provided a sense of community and empowerment for African-Americans. It celebrated black music, fashion, and dance, breaking racial barriers and representing African-American excellence.

Over its four-decade run, Soul Train evolved with the changing musical landscape, adapting to incorporate various genres like funk, disco, hip-hop, and contemporary R&B. The show remained influential in the music industry, introducing new artists and trends to a wide audience.

Don Cornelius, the visionary behind Soul Train, was not only the host but also the executive producer. His distinctive deep voice, dapper style, and catchphrase “Love, Peace, and Soul” became synonymous with the show. Cornelius played a pivotal role in shaping the program’s success and impact.

Soul Train left a lasting legacy in popular culture, influencing music, dance, and fashion. It provided a platform for African-American artists and performers to gain exposure and reach a broader audience. Today, Soul Train is remembered as a groundbreaking television show that championed diversity, talent, and the vibrant spirit of African-American music and culture.

Kevin Ross
Kevin Ross
Kevin Ross is the CEO of Radio Facts. He is a music and radio industry vet who has been a programmer and a radio host in several markets like Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles, and more. He started The Industry Dot Biz in 1995 as a voice for Black industry executives to have a voice in the industry. Ross is a musician, writer, voice talent, and author. The Industry Dot Biz is currently the largest urban industry trade and site.

1 COMMENT

  1. First of all, a lot of what you had mentioned about what made Black music great in the 1970’s STARTED in the 1960′ – even the 1950’s – , from the songs mentioned to the artists. Also, the best singers and groups were in the ’70’s??? Talk about throwing Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jerry Butler, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin and much of Motown, Stax and other folks under a huge eighteen-wheeler. Speaking of Stax, while it was white-owned in the 1960’s, by 1970 co-founder Estelle Axton sold her 50% ownership stake to the label’s black VP, Al Bell, who was then promoted to president and was in complete control of the company – which resulted in the label having more Top 10 chartbusters in the 1970’s than they had in the prior decade. And yes, Gamble & Huff were in charge of PIR but the label was financed and OWNED by CBS via Columbia Records (thank you, Clive Davis, for THAT arrangement). Finally, the marriage of labels, radio, retail and let’s not forget television, began and flourished in the 1960’s. I could go on but will stop here.

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