- For other uses, see Soul music (disambiguation).
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 Marvin 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 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
- Blue-eyed soul: Performed by white artists, blue-eyed soul often is characterized by catchy hooks and sweet melodies. It arose from a mixture of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley-derived rockabilly and Dion and The Four Seasons-inspired doo wop; other performers include Righteous Brothers, Hall & Oates, The Rascals, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Dusty Springfield. David Bowie's Young Americans album is widely regarded as a late classic of the genre.
- Detroit soul: Dominated by Berry Gordy's Motown empire, Detroit soul is strongly rhythmic and influenced by gospel. It often includes handclapping and a powerful bassline, and includes violins, bells and other untraditional instruments. Motown's house band was The Funk Brothers. Other performers: Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Diana Ross & the Supremes, The Four Tops; songwriters: Holland-Dozier-Holland
- Southern soul: Generally refers to a driving, energetic soul style combining r&b's energy with pulsating Southern gospel music sounds, as produced at Stax in Memphis. Stax self-consciously nurtured a distinctive sound, which included putting vocals further back in the mix than most contemporary R&B records, the use of vibrant horn parts in the place of background vocals, and a focus on the low end of the frequency spectrum. The vast majority of Stax releases were backed by house bands Booker T and the MGs (which included soul legends Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson) and the Memphis Horns (the splinter horn section of the Mar-Keys), and the label counted Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, William Bell, and Eddie Floyd among its stars. People interested in learning more about Stax's history and music are advised to check out Peter Guralnik's Sweet Soul Music (which also serves as a very poetic primer on Soul in general) and basically anything by Rob Bowman (who seems to have talked with nearly every still-living person who was connected with Stax).
- Memphis soul: A shimmering, sultry style of soul music produced in the 1960s and 1970s at Stax and Hi Records in Memphis, featuring tasteful, melancholic, melodic horns, organ, bass, and drums, as heard in recordings by Hi's Al Green and Stax's Booker T. & the M.G.'s. The latter group also sometimes played in the harder-edged Southern soul style. The Hi label's Hi Rhythm Section house band and Willie Mitchell's production style developed the signature, surging soul style heard in the label's many hit recordings of the 1970s. Some Stax recordings also fit into this style and had their own unique sound.
- New Jack Swing
- Nu soul: Though usually said to have appeared in the mid-1990s, elements of nu soul, a mixture of soul-styled vocals with hip hop beats and rap interludes, first appeared in the late 1980s with artists like Keith Sweat, Alexander O'Neal and The Force M.D.s. During the early 1990s, En Vogue and Lisa Stansfield continued to bride the gap between New Jack Swing and nu soul, which were distinct genres by the time D'Angelo, Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys began massively popularizing the sound. Other performers: G.A.T., Jill Scott, LeVert, Jaguar Wright, Erykah Badu, Adriana Evans, Maxwell, India.Arie, Redmond; songwriters: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis
- Philadelphia soul
- Psychedelic soul: A blending of psychedelic rock and soul music in the late-1960s that paved the way for the mainstream emergence of funk music a few years later. Principle figures included muticultural band Sly & the Family Stone, The Fifth Dimension, and, with producer Norman Whitfield, The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth.
- Quiet Storm: Quiet storm is a broad category of R&B and jazz-based music that is mellow, laid-back and often romantic. Its name comes from an innovative radio show that originated at WHUR at Howard University in the mid-1970s, named after Smokey Robinson's hit single and album Quiet Storm. The genre achieved great mainstream success during the 1980s with artists like Luther Vandross, Anita Baker and Shade.
See also: List of soul performers
- Download sample of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say", the most well-known hit from Charles, a noted R&B and soul singer
- Download sample of Otis Redding's "Mr. Pitiful", one of the most well-remembered songs from this soul great
- Download sample of Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools", one of the biggest hits of Franklin's career and a still well-known soul and R&B song
- Download sample of The Delfonics' "Ready or Not Here I Come (Can't Hide From Love)" from The Sound of Sexy Soul, one of the pioneering recordings of Philly soul
- Download sample of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" from What's Going On, a seminal soul album led by the hit title track, What's Going On transformed the genre from single-led pop to cohesive albums with socio-political lyrical content. "What's Going On", recorded despite condemnation from Gaye's record label, became a hit and has since become one of the most well-known anti-Vietnam protest songs
- Download sample of D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" from Voodoo; accompanied by a controversial video featuring nothing but the nude singer, D'Angelo, who is one of the most renowned male artists of the hip hop/soul fusion nu soul