Blog #34
Blog #34: Genre of the week
Soul Music


Soul music is a genre of African American popular music that led to many later genres, from funk and dance music to hip hop and contemporary R&B. It developed in the USA in the late 1950's from African American church music called "gospel music".

After slavery ended in 1865, African Americans weren't welcome in the churches of white Americans, so they built their own churches and sang Christian songs with African-American vocal styles and rhythms. They sang joyful, up-tempo gospel songs while clapping and moving to the beat, and they sang slower gospel songs that expressed deep feelings like 
yearning for God's love. 

Soul music is a kind of music that mixes rhythm and blues, gospel music, and pop music.  Soul is energetic music with main subjects of lyrics being love, dance and life. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame states that soul is "music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying." 

Development of Soul


Soul music was the result of the urbanization and commercialization of rhythm and blues in the 1960's. The phrase "soul music" itself, referring to gospel-style music with secular lyrics, was first attested in 1961. 

Gospel groups in the 1940's and 1950's occasionally used the term as part of their names. The jazz style that originated from gospel became known as soul jazz.

Famous musicians of the 1950's: Etta James, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson


As singers and arrangers began using techniques from both gospel and soul jazz in African-American popular music during the 1960's, soul music gradually functioned as an umbrella term for the African-American popular music at the time.

Ben E. King achieved success in 1961 with "Stand By Me", a song directly based on a gospel hymn. By the mid-1960's, new soul singers, such as Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett had found their footing in the soul scene. 

The most important female soul singer to emerge was Aretha Franklin,  originally a gospel singer who began to make secular recordings in 1960. 

Soul music dominated the U.S. African-American music charts in the 1960's, and many recordings crossed over into the pop charts in the U.S. The genre also became highly popular in the UK, where many leading acts toured in the late 1960's. 

By 1968, while at its peak of popularity, soul began to fragment into disparate sub genres. Artists such as James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone evolved into funk music, while other singers such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and Al Green developed slicker, more sophisticated and in some cases more politically conscious varieties of the genre. 

However, soul music continued to evolve, informing most subsequent forms of R&B from the 1970's-onward, with pockets of musicians continuing to perform in traditional soul style.

Famous musicians of the decade #2: Ben E. King, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green



By the early 1970's, soul music had been influenced by psychadelic rock and other genres. The social and political ferment of the times inspired artists like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield to release album-length statements with hard-hitting social commentary. Artists like James Brown led soul towards funk music, which became typified by 1970's bands like Parliment-Funkadelic and The Meters. More versatile groups such as War, The Commodores, and Earth, Wind and Fire became popular around this time.  During the 1970's, some slick and commercial blue-eyed soul acts like Philadelphia's Hall & Oates and Oakland's Tower of Power achieved mainstream success, as did a new generation of street-corner harmony or "city-soul" groups such as The Delfonics and the historically black Howard University's Unifics.

The syndicated music/dance variety television series Soul Train, hosted by Chicago native Don Cornelius, debuted in 1971. The show provided an outlet for soul music for several decades, also spawning a franchise that saw the creation of a record label (Soul Train Records) that distributed music by many artists. The TV series continued to air until 2006, although other predominantly African-American music genres such as hip-hop began overshadowing soul on the show beginning in the 1980's.

Famous musicians of the decade #3: The Staple Singers, Al Green, Bobby Womack, Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, Parliment-Funkadelic, James Brown, The Meters, War, The Commodores, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Tower of Power, Unifics

1980's and beyond:

As disco and funk musicians had hits in the late 1970's and early 1980's, soul went in the direction of quiet storm. With its relaxed tempos and soft melodies, quiet storm soul took influences from fusion and adult contemporary. Some funk bands, such as EW&F, The Commodores and Con Funk Shun would have a few quiet storm tracks on their albums. Among the most successful acts in this era include Smokey Robinson, Jeffry Osbourne, Peabo Bryson, Chaka Kahn, and Larry Graham.

After the decline of disco and funk in the early 1980's, soul music became influenced by electro-music. It became less raw and more slickly produced, resulting in a style known as contemporary R&B, which sounded very different from the original rhythm and blues style. The United States saw the development of neo-soul around 1994. Mainstream record label marketing support for soul genres cooled in the 2000's due to the industry's re-focus on hip-hop.


Ray Charles
"Georgia On My Mind" by Ray Charles

Ella Fitzgerald
"Summertime" by Ella Fitzgerald

Ben E. King
"Stand by me" by Ben E. King

Aretha Franklin
"RESPECT" by Aretha Franklin

James Brown
"I got you (I feel good)" by James Brown

Otis Redding
"(Sittin' On) The Dock On The Bay" by Otis Redding

Earth, Wind, & Fire
"September" by Earth, Wind, & Fire

Click this link to respond to the questions below

Listen to at least two of the listening examples and compare and contrast the differences and similarities between the two.

Why do you think that soul music was able to combine sacred music (religious music) with secular music (non religious music) and find success?