The songwriter is sometimes the most overlooked component in hit making. The singer gets the adulation, the producer gets the accolades–and sometimes the songwriter gets shorted by the average music fan. Obviously, songwriting is where a hit is born–before a vocalist records and before a producer puts his stamp on that recording; you have to have a song.
In rock music, the singer-songwriter and the idea of a band that writes its own material have been mainstays since the early 1960s, and icons like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon & Paul McCartney have been celebrated for decades for their gifts as writers. But in R&B, the songwriter tends to be slightly less acknowledged. That is an unfortunate development, considering some of the greatest writers in the history of popular music have been R&B songwriters. Legends like Sam Cooke wrote much of his own material, and Marvin Gaye took a more direct hand in songwriting as his career progressed. Rose Marie McCoy wrote hits throughout the 50s and early 60s and Maurice White was the man behind Earth, Wind & Fire‘s success. Today, stars like Ne-Yo and Frank Ocean are among the most successful singer-songwriters in music.
So for Black Music Month, we decided to pay tribute to the men and women who have penned the hits that have defined generations. Some of them are stars themselves and some aren’t quite household names, but all have contributed to R&B’s rich and storied history.
Here are the 20 Greatest Songwriters in R&B History…