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‘The Early Years of Rhythm & Blues’

Curators’ corner

‘The Early Years of Rhythm & Blues’

When it comes to Rhythm & Blues, the cliché, “They don’t make them like they used to,” rings overwhelmingly true.

That’s not a statement of disrespect toward modern R&B. What you hear on the radio today has its place in music history, and its fusion with hip-hop and pop is undeniably catchy at times. But the R&B of decades ago was so soulful and so deeply connected to African American culture that it simply will never be duplicated.

Houston photographer Benny Joseph traced the rise of Rhythm & Blues in the 1950s and ’60s, a time period in which the genre flourished alongside the civil rights movement. In addition to capturing timeless images of the era’s musical greats – B.B. King, Junior Parker, Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins and the like – Joseph also found himself within arm’s reach of activist icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Barbara Jordan.

Some 60 years later, 50 of Joseph’s black-and-white photographs went on display at the International Center of Photography (ICP) at Mana in Jersey City, NJ. The archives were donated to ICP by Documentary Arts, and the appointment-only exhibition was curated by Alan Govenar, the Dallas-based organization’s founder.

While ‘The Early Years of Rhythm & Blues’ has left ICP, you can view a handful of Joseph’s timeless photos below. We also encourage you to put ICP at Mana on your radar if it’s not already – the gallery is a 10-minute walk from Journal Square, which is a quick and easy ride on the PATH train from Manhattan.

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Benny Joseph, Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, Houston, 1972. © Benny Joseph. Courtesy International Center of Photography.

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Benny Joseph, Club Matinee, Houston, 1957. © Benny Joseph. Courtesy International Center of Photography.

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Benny Joseph, B.B. King at City Auditorium, Houston, 1962. © Benny Joseph. Courtesy International Center of Photography.

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Benny Joseph, Thurgood Marshall, Houston, n.d. © Benny Joseph. Courtesy International Center of Photography.

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Benny Joseph, KCOH disk jockey Skipper Lee Frazier and go-go girls, Houston, 1965. © Benny Joseph. Courtesy International Center of Photography.

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Benny Joseph, Couple dancing, 26 Men Social Club, Eldorado Ballroom, Houston, 1962. © Benny Joseph. Courtesy International Center of Photography.

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