In a year that saw old favorites release some of their best material in years and newer artists swing to the top of the charts, the world of R&B in 2011 was definitely one to remember.
Soul music definitely enjoyed a resurgence in R&B. Contemporary soul artist Jill Scott enjoyed her first No. 1 album when she released The Light Of The Sun in July, while the legendary Betty Wright came back strong with the release of her first album in a decade to snag a nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance alongside the Roots for their song "Surrender." Pop superstar Beyoncé released arguably her most soul-packed album to date when 4 hit the shelves in June. Mary J. Blige sang the soulful theme to the movie The Help and released My Life II … The Journey Continues (Act I) toward the end of 2011. Marsha Ambrosius began the year with the release of her solo debut, Late Nights & Early Mornings, featuring the heartfelt song "Far Away," which is not only nominated for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song, but clocked in at the No. 3 spot on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Soul powerhouse Ledisi, who is nominated in three R&B categories, enjoyed her best year ever with the release of her most successful album to date, Pieces Of Me, and her first headlining tour.
Acts like Eric Benét, R. Kelly, and Raphael Saadiq carried on the soul man tradition of their forefathers in the genre, with a nod to the days of Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and Otis Redding but with a fresh coat of paint for 2011. It's no wonder they all received nominations in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category for their respective songs. Veterans Charlie Wilson and El DeBarge also crooned their way onto the charts, airwaves and GRAMMY nominations list this year. Fan-favorites such as Trey Songz and Lloyd continued to flourish, and newcomers such as Frank Ocean, Mateo and Luke James breathed fresh air into R&B playlists.
Last year also saw the return to prominence of the vocal duet. Women and men paired to create songs that showed the intricacies of this thing called love and made some beautiful music together. Notable pairings included Scott and Anthony Hamilton on "So In Love" and Anthony David and Algebra featuring Phonte on "4evermore" — which were both huge songs on urban contemporary radio — and GRAMMY nominees Kelly Price and Stokley for their Best R&B Performance contender " Not My Daddy" and Cee Lo Green and Melanie Fiona for "Fool For You," up for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
Another big story in the world of R&B was the emergence of more independent talent and many artists formerly signed to major record labels taking the indie route. Two-time GRAMMY nominee Eric Roberson, long called the King of Independent Soul, released his seventh album to much fanfare, earning attention for the single "Picture Perfect," also featuring rapper Phonte of GRAMMY-nominated group and fellow independent artists the Foreign Exchange. Also making the recent transition from major label to indie were Kelly Price, Syleena Johnson, Joe and Carl Thomas, to name a few.
Chris Brown's F.A.M.E. holds the distinction as the highest-charting album from any nominee in the Best R&B Album category at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. F.A.M.E. saw Chris Brown adding more hip-hop to his R&B mix with successful results and reflected the ongoing marriage between R&B and hip-hop in urban music last year with artists like Miguel and Kelly Rowland also utilizing some hip-hop swagger in their chart-topping R&B hits.
Whether the sounds were solidly soulful or leaned more toward hip-hop's hard edge, R&B in all its variations thrived in 2011 and has set the stage for a promising 2012.