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Billboard Magazine Used to Refer to R&B Songs as “Race Records”

Billboard Race Records

In the beginning of the record industry's history, music was primarily marketed toward middle and upper class white Americans. In the early 1900's, the United States was still segregated and it wasn’t until the 1920s when African American artists began to record music with major record labels. Shortly after that, their sales began to take off but these early recordings were referred to as “race records” by Billboard Magazine.
Such records were marketed solely to African Americans, but over time, white Americans began to purchase these records too. Mamie Smith was one of the first Black artists who completely changed the music industry with her recording “Crazy Blues/It’s Right Here for You.” When it sold over 75,000 copies in one month, record labels began to realize that the most important color to be concerned with was green - not black or white.

Race Record Sales Drop

In the 1930s, the Great Depression virtually destroyed the market. Americans who couldn’t even keep food on the table turned to the radio for “free” music, rather than purchasing records. Sadly, Black musicians did not get airtime and so these so-called "race records" seemingly died, until Billboard published a "Race Records" chart in 1945. This chart replaced the Harlem Hit Parade Chart.

In 1949, the name of the chart changed again to the “Rhythm & Blues Records.” Although “race” was a common term in the 20th century, the terminology just didn’t sit well with the magazine.

The chart has been renamed multiple times through the years, becoming the “Soul” chart in the late 1960s and the "Black" chart in the 1980s. In the 1990s, it was once again changed to the "Hip Hop/R&B" charts.