Soul music‘s greatest songs often speak directly to our hearts, from celebrating new love to mourning loss. Furthermore, many protest songs like Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” which addressed civil rights movements can also be found among its ranks.
In the ’80s, artists such as Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston popularized contemporary R&B. At this same time, other forms of soul such as funk and neo soul began emerging as well.
Samuel Cooke is widely considered the King of Soul music. Often compared with Nat King Cole in terms of vocal styling and ability to connect with audiences, Cooke is revered as an icon within this genre. His legacy lives on today.
Cooke began his musical career with the Highway Q.C.’s gospel group before being asked to join the Soul Stirrers, where he truly found his niche. Singing with them for six years allowed him to travel all across America while learning first-hand about how black people were treated – something which led him to compose “A Change Is Gonna Come,” one of his biggest hits and an anthem for civil rights activism.
By 1957, Cooke was recording pop and R&B hits for Keen Records, with “You Send Me” becoming both pop and R&B charts toppers simultaneously – this marked a huge change for him; at that time it had been socially unacceptable for gospel performers to crossover to popular music genres.
Though his last two studio albums did not achieve as much commercial success, his live recordings from Miami’s Harlem Square Club and Monterey Pop Festival remain some of his finest work – in which he effortlessly blends melodic pop with gritty soul aesthetics, earning himself the moniker “King of Soul.”
Cooke’s legacy lives on long after his death in 1964. His music remains popular at family barbecues and housewarming parties alike; moreover, “A Change Is Gonna Come” from him can often be heard during civil rights demonstrations.
Curtis Mayfield was among the early soul singers to use music as a form of social activism in the late ’60s, using his tunes as vehicles of social change without making direct statements regarding its significance; nevertheless, they sent powerful messages through his songs that still resonated with listeners – this approach inspired later artists such as Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron, and Peter Tosh to take similar approaches in their songs and live performances.
Once Mayfield left the Impressions in 1970, his artistic and commercial success really began with the 1972 soundtrack for blaxploitation film Super Fly. This album of melodious protest songs depicted the negative aspects of ghetto life with uncanny realism – drug deals, gang wars and young Black men being killed all being addressed through profound lyrics.
Mayfield followed up the success of Super Fly with another landmark soul album entitled Back to the World in 1973, expanding upon his socially conscious sound to address America’s increasing reliance on foreign oil, its unemployment rates, and environmental concerns.
Mayfield played an instrumental role in shaping Chicago soul, writing and recording for such Windy City soulsters as Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Major Lance, Walter Jackson and Aretha Franklin. Additionally he served as composer/session guitarist on many recordings by other soul artists around the country – his innovative guitar playing featured an authentic chord tuning which gave it a subtle and melodious tone; tragically he died due to diabetes on Christmas Day 1999 but his legacy lives on today.
Robert Gordon’s documentary on Stax Records, the Memphis studio that went from modest garage to hit-making Southern counterpart of Motown, is an integral chapter in American music history. Launched by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton in 1957, “Respect Yourself: The Story of Stax Records” covers its turbulent years leading up to its demise and bankruptcy in 1975.
Gordon details how Stax Records began as an effort by white country fiddler Stewart; but soon black jazz musician Axton became more passionate about soul music and brought in talented musicians who helped shape its unique sound. Stax’s integration of artists and staff shattered segregationist policies of its day and inspired civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to fight for equal rights.
Stax Records’ golden years came during the late ’60s, with hits by such soul music greats as Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MG’s, The Staple Singers and Sam & Dave. Stax’s house band comprised key members such as keyboardist and vocalist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Duck Dunn; together they produced an identifiable horn-driven style which helped define Stax Sound.
Stax Records struggled financially in the ’70s, yet continued to produce hits by Johnnie Taylor, The Dramatics, and Fontella Bass. Unfortunately, its luster was diminished after it split with Atlantic Records in 1968 and lead singer Otis Redding died in a plane crash which also claimed four members of his Bar-Kays group (whose music had featured prominently on Redding’s recordings). A financial crisis caused by Stax’s success ultimately caused it to go bankrupt but remains remembered through artists recorded there and subsequent success stories
In the 1960s, African-American artists began dominating rhythm and blues charts with soul music. Acts often combined gospel-style singing with secular lyrics to create this new genre called soul music; its pioneers such as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin quickly rose to stardom within this scene in America and beyond; its influence can still be felt today through many R&B singers and other forms such as funk and hip hop music styles.
In the 1970s, soul began to expand into various subgenres. James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone began creating funk music while Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield introduced more sophisticated versions. These artists helped shape an R&B landscape that encompassed dance music styles as well as disco music genres such as funk.
Modern R&B may have moved beyond its roots of blues instrumentation, yet still retains an emotional depth and spiritual depth that are characteristic of its predecessors. Pianos and vocal harmonies characterize it, with songs often featuring positive messages about love and hope. Many contemporary artists also incorporate elements from other genres into their own distinctive styles; Alicia Keys’ 24K Magic album showcases elements from classic Motown soul, R&B funk and new jack swing.
Soul music’s current popularity can be attributed to its emotional power and message of love and hope that it conveys to listeners. Soul has its roots deep within black culture and history, making its emotional impact felt by listeners worldwide. Recently, several notable artists such as Erykah Badu’s HER, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer and Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther: The Album have released albums featuring soul influences.
Soul music may appear to have faded from prominence in recent decades, yet its legacy still lives on through artists like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo who have created Neo Soul – an R&B subgenre which draws upon classic R&B rhythms but incorporates contemporary hip hop elements as well as complex chord structures with secondary dominants and more chromatic tones – but remains true to its roots.
Kedar Massenburg of Motown Records coined the term neo-soul in the 1990s after becoming inspired by D’Angelo’s 1995 debut album Brown Sugar and Baduizm by Erykah Badu – both featuring classic soul elements like those associated with Billie Holiday to create modern sounds that draw upon both styles of soul music.
Singers of the new neo-soul movement combined elements from funk, jazz fusion and other genres to forge their own distinct sound. Many used live musicians instead of synthesizers and computers when recording, giving their songs an organic quality while maintaining truer ties to traditional soul sounds.
Neo-soul is still going strong today, with artists like Solange, Anderson.Paak and Jorja Smith continuing to integrate elements of soul music, hip hop and other genres into their songs. Neo-soul continues to change with each generation of musicians that come through its ranks; its legacy will not be lost. While some soul fans may oppose being labeled neo-soul fans should remember it has helped expand and broaden the genre’s reach.