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Encyclopedia > 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 - Psychedelic soul
Fusion genres
New Jack Swing - Nu soul
Regional scenes
Detroit soul - Memphis soul - Philly soul
Other topics
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

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

  Results from FactBites:
Music for the Soul - Music for recovery and healing (980 words)
Music For The Soul is a not-for-profit Christian ministry committed to providing life-changing healing through music and song.
Music is the language of the heart, a universal language that speaks to all people, going places where words alone will not penetrate.
Music for the Soul is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3).
Stax Museum of American soul music artists records exhibits merchandise in Memphis (507 words)
This 17,000-square-foot facility with more than 2,000 cultural artifacts, music exhibits, video footage, and items of memorabilia is designed to preserve and promote the legacy of American soul music, particularly that of Stax Records.
With permanent Soul Music exhibits, like Soul Train, to changing exhibits, like Wattstax and Blaxploitation, the mission of the Stax Museum is to keep the memory of Stax soul music legends alive forever.
And because we are the only soul music museum in the world, you'll also find programs, special events, concerts, exhibits and memorabilia dedicated to other soul music artists and labels, including that of Muscle Shoals, Motown, Atlantic, and Hi Records.
  More results at FactBites »



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