The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Soul music

Stylistic origins: Secularized gospel music, blues
Cultural origins: late 1950s United States (esp. Memphis and Detroit)
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass - Drums - Vocals
Mainstream popularity: Much, across the world
Derivative forms: Funk
Blue-eyed soul - Brown-eyed soul - - Girl group - Motown - Quiet Storm
New Jack Swing - Nu soul
Regional scenes
Detroit soul - Memphis soul - Philly soul
Other topics

Soul music is fundamentally rhythm and blues, which grew out of the African-American gospel and blues traditions during the late 1950s and early 1960s in the United States. Over time, much of the broad range of R&B extensions in African-American popular music, generally, also has come to be considered soul music. Traditional soul music usually features individual singers backed by a traditional band consisting of rhythm section and horns.

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

The development of soul music was spurred by two main trends: the urbanization of R&B and the secularization of gospel. Artists like Ben E. King, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and The Staple Singers mixed the passion of gospel vocals with the catchy, rhythmic music of R&B, thus forming soul in the late 1950s. Socially, the vast audience of white teens who had been listening to (primarily) watered-down, white covers of black R&B and rock hits began demanding records by the original black artists, such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry. By the late 1950s, this caused several record labels to seek out marketable versions of black music. The most influential labels were Stax, based out of Memphis, and Motown, based out of Detroit.

During the 1960s, soul music was popular among blacks in the US, and among many mainstream listeners throughout the United States and Europe. Artists like "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the "Godfather of Soul" James Brown have had enduring careers. Other prominent soul performers of the period were Bobby Bland, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Womack, Ike and Tina Turner, Etta James, Jerry Butler, Jackie Wilson, Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge and Joe Tex. Most blue-eyed soul artists, like the Righteous Brothers, achieved only short-term success. One notable exception has been vocalist Michael McDonald.

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 Censored page (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 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


Soul Music is also the title of a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett; see Soul Music

Last updated: 02-08-2005 15:08:36
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55