Especially in rock music, the lead singer or solo singer is often the front man or front woman, who may also play one or more instruments and is often seen as the leader or spokesman of the band by the public. As an example in rock music, Mick Jagger is the lead singer of The Rolling Stones. Similarly in soul music, Smokey Robinson was the lead singer of The Miracles.
It is uncertain when the term "lead vocals" was first used, but it may have emerged in the late 1930s, when rich vocal interplay with multiple voices where one or more voices may dominate began to impact on North American popular music, which was previously dominated by solo vocals. The practice of using a lead singer in vocal groups, however, has a longer history: an early form is the "call and response" found in work songs and spirituals sung by African-American slaves. Songs of the late nineteenth century frequently used a leading solo voice (or "call"), followed by a choral response by other singers. As the style developed through early commercial recordings and performances in the early 20th century, the role of the lead vocalist became more established, although popular groups of the 1930s and 1940s such as the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers generally used different lead singers on different songs rather than keeping the same lead singer throughout. By the 1950s, singers such as Sam Cooke (with the Soul Stirrers) and Clyde McPhatter (with the Drifters) took on more clearly defined roles as lead singers, and by the end of the decade credited group names often changed to reflect the leading roles of the main vocalists, with examples such as Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers and Dion & the Belmonts.
Academic David Horn has written:
The influence of US rhythm and blues recordings may well be a crucial one in the assimilation of the format of lead singer plus backing group into the guitar-based British 'beat' groups of the 1960s, and in US groups such as The Beach Boys. From these various points - including Motown - it went on to become a standard device in much rock and pop music. In some bands - most famously, The Beatles - the role of lead singer alternated (in this case, principally between two performers), while in others - for example, Herman's Hermits - one lead singer dominated.
There are as many types and styles of lead singer as there are styles and genres of music. However, the lead singer of a group or band is usually the main focus of audiences' attention. The lead vocalist of band is sometimes called the "front man" or "front woman," as the most visible performer in a group. While most bands have a singular lead singer, many others have dual lead singers, or other member of the band that occasionally sing lead on particular songs. While the lead singer often defines the group's image and personality to the general public, this is not always the case.