Rhythm and blues and soul music are closely related urban music genres, but with distinctive characteristics. Soul music was a mainstream outgrowth of African American Gospel music. Gospel music on its own has produced legions of R&B and soul artists, but the genre has strictly kept to its religious roots and its main purposes: to spread the word and glorify God in a very celebratory and theatrical manner.
The vocal passion inherent in Gospel was distilled and named Soul. When the innate passion was pulled from the Gospel format, it could only then be applied to love and sex, two overt themes of Soul. During the 50s and 60s soul remained a distinctly African American genre. Artists such as Al Green, Sam Cooke and James Brown set the foundation from which R&B and more multicultural sub-genres could launch.
Few other soul artists managed to succeed in a mainstream crossover. Those that did included Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. However, a soul gray-area is the Stevie Wonder-Marvin Gaye brand associated with Motown that brought soul even more affluence as a broad-based American genre.
Gospel music also heavily influenced the simultaneously emerging genre R&B. As its name suggests, though, blues was also a significant contributor as was jazz. R&B as a musical label has been used to categorize soul and a more pop version of traditional R&B. The early artistic pioneers include Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino.
After the 50s and early 60s, R&B and rock and roll mutually influenced each other. By the 80s the musical melds were nearly complete. Artists like Luther Vandross, Barry White, and Whitney Houston exemplified mainstream commercial R&B. Their inroads and huge fan base instigated a more widespread movement. Boy bands NSync and Boys 2 Men dished up poppy R&B and slick dance moves packaged for a tweenie audience.
Hip-hop borrowed largely from the R&B sound and birthed yet another sub-group of artists that synthesized the two: Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, and former TLC offer up smooth rhythms and soulful lyrics often interspersed or layered with rap lyrics. Contemporary R&B and soul are both salaciously borrowed from to musically support associated genres such as reggaeton, rap and hip-hop and even the UK’s contemporary rock dancehall sound known as 2Step.