Daytime Meets R&B/Hip Hop: featuring Ne-Yo, Mary J. Blige and Rihanna

Known for never ending twists, turns and the ever lasting family tree, daytime soaps have long been a staple in television. Dating back to the 1940s, in the United States in particular, soap operas have not only carried through generations as much of a guilty pleasure, they’ve also featured some of R&B music’s most prominent stars. In some cases, soaps have even birthed artists like Lauryn Hill, while also inspiring songs on albums from Aaliyah, B5, and Howard Hewett.

Now you may not admit to catching a glimpse of All My Children or rushing mom or grandma home in order to catch her “stories” but you’ve done it or you know someone who has. With that said, daytime soaps have much, like the remainder of the television landscape, had trouble with diversity and sustaining a cast reflective on the quintessential "melting pot". Yes, some have been better than others in maintaining an African American or Hispanic family tree in their storyline but, others dabble in and out of the minority acting pool. Despite diversity in casting, daytime television has evolved into much more than just a “juicy” storyline in the last 20 years. In fact, nearly twenty African American recording artists have made the shift to daytime where they’re not only seen, but heard – a serious accomplishment considering that well over 27 million people watch soaps each month. (according to October 2004 viewing data)

Beginning with legendary entertainers including Little Richard, Hazel Scott, Sammie Davis Jr, and Peabo Bryson, soap audiences were introduced to the emerging sounds of Rhythm & Blues, Jazz and eventually Hip Hop. But it was Dionne Warwick, known for classics like “That’s What Friends Are For,” who performed a ballad at what would become today’s signature soap venue for recording artists – the café, club and local spot for The Bold & The Beautiful’s cast called “Café Russe” in 1998. Warwick’s appearance helped to remove the cliche’ ‘wedding only’ performance spot that had long been held as acceptable. Today, everyone from Erykah Badu and Keri Hilson to B.B. King and Timbaland have performed on daytime. In some cases these artists are written into the storyline for multiple episodes.
While the amount African American recording stars dwindled in the early 2000s, a resurgence of R&B and pop talent has occurred at ABC – home to All My Children, One Life To Live and General Hospital. With combined viewer ratings that represent over half the daytime soap audience, even surpassing the popular soap the Young and The Restless, ABC has become the front runner in featuring R&B and Hip Hop music since 2006. In fact, Mary J. Blige holds the record as the only R&B star to have appeared on One Life To Live twice. Speaking of Blige’s successful debut on ‘One Life To Live,’ Supervising Music Director at ABC Daytime Paul Glass says “We've shown the industry that we show results when we have music on the show. That's a battle I'm always fighting, to try to bring more credibility to the genre. Mary J. Blige was enormous, like a 40 percent bump in her sales the week she was on the show. So we show people those numbers and they're like, "Well, I should go on that show."

The success of Blige’s stint on ‘One Life To Live’ has become a benchmark for ABC, with soaps and their audience accepting artists that might have been deemed ‘inappropriate’ before. According to Glass, Blige opened doors and eyes. In fact, Glass says “Somebody might think of Mary J. Blige as a hip-hop artist and then they hear a song on our show that has more of a laid-back R&B feel with emotion in it, and it's tied into a couple of characters, all of a sudden, it's very accessible to them. It's the same thing with Nelly Furtado. She runs the gamut of styles, from hip-hop all the way to laid-back R&B and traditional ballads. I want everyone to enjoy it. We're always trying to balance style…”

Since 2006 music artists including Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Timbaland and Keri Hilson have visited Pine Valley and Llanview – fictional towns on All My Children and One Life To Live respectively. Rihanna, fresh off the success of “S.O.S.” and “Unfaithful” was one of the first artists to perform at Pine Valley’s gathering spot, ironically called “S.O.S.” (later named Fusion) But it was Ne-Yo’s two episode stint on All My Children that made headlines everywhere, including newspapers like USA Today in 2008. During the multi episode run, Ne-Yo performed the 2008 hits “Closer” and “Miss Independent” as during All My Children’s lead African American couple Jesse and Angie’s wedding. When asked about the show, Ne-Yo told reporters his mom nearly 'lost her mind' because she’s always been an ‘All My Children’ fan.

“She lost her mind when she found out about that one. But you know, I think it's a great look for me too. People that frequently watch that show, I mean, may not really know me yet. And I'm trying to get a hold of everybody," Ne-Yo shared in an interview.

But the love affair with R&B and soap operas does not stop with guest appearances and performances. Multi-Platinum selling artists Lauryn Hill and Usher can attest to that !

In the 90s both Hill (1991) and Usher were stars of As The World Turns and The Bold and The Beautiful respectively. While neither remained for extended periods, considering soap stars like Susan Lucci and David Canary who’ve been around for well over twenty years, their stints proved to be useful for Hollywood. In Hill’s case ‘As The World Turns’ proved extremely useful for a breakthrough role in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, followed by multiple Grammy Awards, soundtrack credits on ‘The Best Man’ and the iconic album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”. As for Usher, portraying Raymond (ironically his last name) on ‘The Bold and The Beautiful’ (1998) led to roles in both ‘The Faculty’ and ‘She’s All That’ – all before his 2004 effort “Confessions” reminded us that the words Diamond-certified do exist past Michael Jackson (“Thriller”) and Whitney Houston (“The Bodyguard,” “Whitney Houston”).

Now that soaps have been established as a stomping ground for R&B in particular, it’s time to take a look at the effect of these shows. Over the years, R&B artists have dabbled in daytime culture and it seems that All My Children’s Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) is no.1. According to data compiled in a recent study, Kane has been written about in a number of R&B songs, ironically holding the title of two songs featured on the late Aaliyah’s last album and B5's effort “Don’t Talk, Just Listen”. Even Hip-Hop/reality star Lil Kim has given credit to Kane, going as far as calling herself “The Black Erica Kane” (2005).

Beyond Kane, the most notable artist to take on the soap world was Mary J. Blige with 2001s “No More Drama”. Sampling the Young & The Restless’ “Nadia’s Theme,” “No More Drama” became of one Blige’s most successful singles, also picking up an MTV Video Music Award for Best R&B Video.

With recording artists looking to take their music to the masses more than ever, daytime soaps will likely continue to feature R&B artists both on and off screen.