Soul music


For other uses, see Soul music (disambiguation).

Soul music is a combination of rhythm and blues and gospel which began in the late 1950s in the United States. Rhythm and blues (a term coined by music writer and record producer Jerry Wexler) is itself a combination of blues and jazz, and arose in the 1940s as small groups, often playing saxophones, built upon the blues tradition. Soul music is differentiated by its use of gospel-music devices, its greater emphasis on vocalists, and its merging of religious and secular themes.

The 1950s recordings of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and James Brown are commonly considered the beginnings of soul music. Solomon Burke's early recordings for Atlantic Records codified the style, and as Peter Guralnick writes, "it was only with the coming together of Burke and Atlantic Records that you could see anything resembling a movement." Burke's recordings, in the early 1960s, of "Cry to Me," "Just Out of Reach" and "Down in the Valley" are considered classics of the genre.

In Memphis, Stax Records produced recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Don Covay (Covay also recorded in New York City for Atlantic). Joe Tex's 1965 "The Love You Save" is another classic soul recording. An important center of soul-music recording was Florence, Alabama, where the Fame Studios operated. Jimmy Hughes, Percy Sledge and Arthur Alexander recorded at Fame; later in the 1960s, Aretha Franklin would also record in the area. Fame Studios, often referred to as "Muscle Shoals", after a town neighboring Florence, enjoyed a close relationship with Stax, and many of the musicians and producers who worked in Memphis also contributed to recordings done in Alabama.

Another important Memphis label that produced soul recordings was Goldwax Records, whose owner was Quinton Claunch. Goldwax signed O. V. Wright and James Carr, who would go on to make several records considered essential examples of the genre. Carr's "The Dark End of the Street," written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn, was recorded at two other important Memphis studios, Royal Recording and American Sound Studios, in 1967. In addition, American Studios owner Chips Moman produced "Dark End of the Street," and musicians on the record were his house band of Reggie Young, Bobby Woods, Tommy Cogbill and Gene Chrisman. And Carr also made recordings at Fame, utilizing musicians David Hood, Jimmy Johnson and Roger Hawkins.

Aretha Franklin's 1967 recordings, such as "I Never Loved a Man That Way I Love You," "Respect" (a song written by Otis Redding), and "Do Right Woman-Do Right Man," are commonly considered to be the apogee of the soul-music genre, and among its most commercially successful productions. During this period, Stax artists such as Eddie Floyd and Johnnie Taylor also made significant contributions to soul music. By 1968, the soul-music movement had begun to splinter, as James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone began to expand upon and abstract both soul and rhythm and blues into other forms. As Guralnick writes, "More than anything else, though, what seems to me to have brought the era of soul to a grinding, unsettling halt was the death of Martin Luther King in April of 1968."

Howard Tate's recordings, in the late 1960s, for Verve Records, and later, for Atlantic, produced by Jerry Ragovoy, are another important body of work in the soul genre.

Later examples of soul music include the recordings of The Staple Singers, such as "I'll Take You There," as well as the 1970s recordings, done at Willie Mitchell's Royal Recording in Memphis, of Al Green. Mitchell's Hi Records continued the tradition of Stax in that decade, releasing not only many hits by Green but also important contributions from Ann Peebles, Otis Clay, O. V. Wright and Syl Johnson. Bobby Womack, who recorded with Chips Moman in the late 1960s, continued to produce soul-music recordings in the 1970s and 1980s.

Detroit was another city which produced some important late-soul recordings; producer Don Davis, from the city, worked with Stax artists such as Johnnie Taylor and The Dramatics. The Detroit Emeralds, on early-'70s recordings such as "Do Me Right," are an important link between soul and the later disco style. Motown Records artists such as Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson contributed to the evolution of soul music, although their recordings were conceived in a more overtly pop music vein that those of Redding, Franklin or Carr.

Although they are somewhat different from classic soul stylistically, recordings by Chicago-based artists such as Jerry Butler and The Chi-Lites are often considered part of the genre.

Music produced by white musicians which is stylistically similar to black soul music sometimes is called blue-eyed soul.

By the early 1970s, soul music had been influenced by psychedelic rock and other influences. The social and political ferment of the times inspired artists like Gaye (What's Going On) and Curtis Mayfield (Superfly) to release album-length statements with hard-hitting social commentary. Artists like James Brown led soul towards more dance-oriented music, resulting in funk music; funk was typified by 1970s bands like Parliament-Funkadelic, The Meters, and James Brown himself, while more versatile groups like War, the Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire also became popular. During the 70s, some highly slick and commercial blue-eyed soul acts like Philadelphia's Hall & Oates achieved mainstream success, as well as a new generation of street-corner harmony or "city-soul" groups like The Delfonics and Howard University's Unifics. By the end of the 70s, disco was dominating the charts and funk, Philly soul and most other genres were dominated by disco-inflected tracks.

After the death of disco in the late 1970s, the popularity of soul music remained strong. Soul-influenced groups like The O'Jays and The Spinners turned out a series of hits. Solo crooner Luther Vandross and then superstars like Prince (Purple Rain) and Michael Jackson (Off the Wall) took over. With sultry, sexually charged vocals and danceable beats, these artists dominated the charts throughout the 1980s. Female soul singers like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson gained great popularity during the last half of the decade; and Tina Turner, then in her 50s, came back with a series of hits with crossover appeal.

In the early 1990s, alternative rock, hair metal and gangsta rap ruled the charts, though New Jack Swing groups began to merge hip hop and soul. Boyz II Men was among the most popular of these groups, but quickly fell out of favor. Another popular, but short-lived group, with more pronounced R&B roots was Levert, whose lead singer, Gerald Levert, was the son of O'Jays lead vocalist Eddy Levert. During the later part of the decade, nu soul, which further mixed hip hop and soul, arose, led by Mary J. Blige, D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill.

Genres of soul

See also: List of soul performers



  • Miller, Jim (editor) (1976). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. New York: Rolling Stone Press/Random House. ISBN 0-394-73238-3. (Chapter on "Soul," by Guralnick, Peter. pp. 194-197.
  • Escott, Colin. Liner notes for The Essential James Carr. Razor and Tie Records, 1995.

da:soul de:Soul (Musik) eo:Soulo fr:Soul nl:Soul ja:ソウルミュージック pl:Soul pt:soul fi:soul-musiikki


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