The Return of the R&B Duet

Marvin & TammiFor lovers of soul music, the male/female duet is perhaps one of the most beloved and cherished aspects of the genre; when a man and a woman (especially well-known and established artists) blend in beautiful rhythm through powerful and passionate harmonies, the results are nothing short of a work of art.

A great duet is capable of doing many things, especially where relationships are concerned; from happiness to heartache, to love and loss, duets, in some capacity, have the ability to bring—and perhaps keep—folks together.

Throughout the history of R&B, there have been countless couples (some “married” musically; others, in real life) who have recorded some of music’s most memorable duets ever. There’s Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway with “The Closer I Get to You,” or James Ingram and Patti Austin’s “Baby Come to Me.” Diana Ross and Lionel Richie brought us the über-romantic ballad (and ultimate wedding staple), “Endless Love,” and Peaches and Herb had the unforgettable hit, “Reunited.” Ashford and Simpson… well, everything! And of course, no duets list could ever be complete without “Fire and Desire,” the sexy and sultry classic by the late Rick James and Teena Marie.

Of course, there have been plenty of other artists who have made significant contributions to the R&B duets discography; for instance, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. left a major mark in the 70s with the Grammy Award-winning “You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show).” Other talented twosomes like Rene and Angela (“My First Love”), Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill (“Where Do We Go From Here”) and Alexander O’Neal and Cherrelle (“Saturday Love”) are among those who held it down in the 80s; in the 90s, Eric Benet and Tamia, and Chanté Moore and Keith Washington gave us the popular “Spend My Life With You” and “I Love You,” respectively [editor’s note, Moore and Washington’s first duet, “Candlelight and You,” appeared on Moore’s debut album Precious]; and the new millennium ushered in twosomes like KeKe Wyatt and Avant and Kindred the Family Soul.

While the aforementioned definitely put their stamp on the category, there is but one pair who ultimately and definitively set the tone for soulful duets as we know them today: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

Throughout the 60s, Motown superstars Gaye and Terrell sang a string of chart-topping hits which, to this day, have been unmatched; with songs like “Your Precious Love,” Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and the ultimate fan favorite, “You’re All I Need to Get By,” this dynamic duo, who are truly in a class by themselves, is arguably the undisputed prototype for the modern soul duet. With voices, influence, style and chemistry that to this day remain unparalleled, “Marvin and Tammi’s number one position in the “R&B Duets Hall of Fame” has firmly been cemented.

babyface-toni-braxtonRecently, because of artists like Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton (“So In Love”) and Kelly Price and Stokley (“Not My Daddy”), there have been a few duets here and there; however, for awhile, and perhaps due to hip-hop’s domination in popular music, duets seemingly fell off R&B’s radar. Now, thanks to four music powerhouses–Alicia Keys and Maxwell, and Toni Braxton and Babyface–it appears they are poised to make a comeback.

This past spring, Keys and Maxwell’s seductive “Fire We Make” burned up the charts; and while there is no official word when fans can expect a full project, reportedly, Maxwell has confirmed that the duo is headed to the studio soon. Meanwhile, Braxton and Babyface, who long ago validated their musical marriage via the Boomerang soundtrack, recently released “Hurt You,” the first single off their upcoming  album Love, Marriage, and Divorce, set to drop just in time for the holidays.

So, who is your favorite R&B duo of all time? What two artists would you like to see create a collaboration? Let us know via Twitter @SoulTrain, #Duets!

LaShawn Williams 

LaShawn Williams is a freelance writer and entertainment enthusiast in Chicago. She is currently the Arts & Culture Editor for Gapers Block, focusing on theater, stand-up comedy, and dance. Follow her on Twitter at @MsWilliamsWorld.

One Comment

  1. I Love Music says:

    Maybe the writer is on to something here–now, Fantasia and Joe have a duet out. Good stuff!

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