“Soul music” blends the powerful spirituality of gospel with the deeply emotional grooves of “Rhythm & Blues,” which was the term record companies had begun to use in the ’40s to categorize forms of African American music, replacing the increasingly unconfortable “race records.” Using the term “soul” in reference to a song or singer implies more than just adherence to a particular musical genre, but the assertion that the musician–almost exclusively an African-American musician–brings a particular depth to his or her art, perhaps borne of historical struggles, maybe due to connection with a higher power.
“Soul music” as a term first became associated with RAY CHARLES, who brought a spiritual, Gospel-inspired emotion to his piano-based blues, and vocalist, preacher SOLOMON BURKE–“the Muhammad Ali of soul.” Passionate vocalists like Stax Records artist OTIS REDDING and gospel-soul artist MAVIS STAPLES, “soul blues” singer SAM COOKE, gospel/jazz/R&B singer/songwriter ARETHA FRANKLIN and even rhythm &
blues/rock ‘n’ roll legend ETTA JAMES, whose version of “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” we try to channel in class–watch this incredible performance of the 1962 hit–all virtually exploded with “soul.”
[Watch Ray Charles perform “I Believe to My Soul” in 1960 and “Hit the Road Jack” in 1961 | Watch Otis Redding sing “Try a Little Tenderness” | Watch Sam Cooke perform “Ain’t
That Good News” on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand | Enjoy Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers perform in Ghana in 1971 | Watch the Staple Singers, led this time by “Pops” on vocals, perform “Respect Yourself” in 1972 | Watch Aretha Franklin perform “I Never Loved a Man” in 1967 | Watch Solomon Burke singing “Cry to Me” live at the Long Beach Blues Festival.]
In the 1960s producer Berry Gordy’s Detroit-based Motown Records married soul with stellar songwriting to score over a hundred top ten hits. Often backed by a set of superb studio musicians known as the Funk Brothers, Motown artists like SMOKEY ROBINSON &
THE TEMPTATIONS, THE SUPREMES and GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS were soulful and groovy. STEVIE WONDER–first known as “Little Stevie Wonder”–also was a Motown artist whose career has expanded well beyond soul to envelop many other genres like funk and R&B.
[Watch Diana Ross and The Supremes sing a flawless “Stop in the Name of Love” at the Hollywood Palace in the mid-60s | Watch Smokey Robinson & the Temptations perform “Tracks of My Tears” in 1965 | Watch Gladys Night and Pips sing their classic, “Midnight Train to Georgia,” in 1973, accompanied by their classic dance moves | Watch Stevie Wonder reach “Higher Ground” in 1973]
By the early 1970s soul music had expanded to refer to the electrifying new sounds that developed in the politically, socially and racially charged times. Soul in the 1970s had a deep, groovy center, with activist/artists like CURTIS MAYFIELD intertwining their music with the struggles taking place in the street. At the same time, a television program, Soul Train, with its infinitely soulful host DON CORNELIUS, introduced American youth to soul, R&B and eventually funk artists like EARTH WIND & FIRE and THE COMMODORES.
[Watch Curtis Mayfield live in performance in 1972 | Watch EARTH, WIND & FIRE perform “Mighty Might,” on Soul Train in 1974 | Dig the Commodores performing “Too Hot Ta Trot” in 1977 (Note the wonderful costumes. Note the amazing glasses. Note Lionel Ritchie.)]
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