Soul music is music made with a link to the “black experience” of America. Originally called “race music” referring to the black artists and/or the black producers, soul music is tied into the early civil rights movement as the sound that brought black and white together. Soul music is the funky sister to gospel and the blues, with gospel relating to religion and the blues being largely jazz styled. Soul is considered to have started within cities of northern United States such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and New York. Different styles emerged from various regions depending on their original gospel or blues style.
Four particular sounds emerged within the context of the four independent labels formed in four different cities: Detroit’s Motown, Philadelphia’s International, New York’s Atlantic, and Memphis’ Stax. Atlantic had Jerry Wexler to credit for the sound of Aretha Franklin, big, bold, and aggressive vocals. Stax had the southern flavor of country music with simple orchestrations and a bigger horn section. Otis Redding had this southern sound. Motown is the biggest success story of black music, with Barry Gordy at the helm. His sound was rather more mainstream white than the styles of the other three. Gordy used catchy lyrics with a musical hook that were geared toward teenagers. This included the work of Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Four Tops. Gordy used composing and production teams to create the music as well. The 70’s sound came from Philadelphia’s International with the addition of a disco beat to modernize Motown’s soft soul sounds. The arrangements were lusher and fuller.
Aretha Franklin is considered to be the Queen of Soul starting in the 1960’s. She has won 18 Grammys in her singing career and is still going strong. Signed to Columbia early on, her gospel background was misunderstood and never emphasized. After leaving Columbia, she signed with Atlantic where she gained superstardom combining gospel with rock.
James Brown is the King of Soul and the originator of Funk, another type of danceable soul music. Starting out in the 50’s, he continued making music thru the 80’s and 90’s. He died in 2006 in the middle of one of his concert tours of congestive heart failure. Brown did much to contribute to the soul genre of music. He contributed to other genres of music thru his chart topping hits throughout the years.
So what would the difference be between rock and roll, rhythm and blues and soul? Back in the 60’s and the heyday of the civil rights movement, rock and roll and soul were similar except that one was performed by white artists and the other by black artists. Rhythm and blues was the original music. Rock and roll and soul made it danceable and personal. A comeback of sorts for old style soul is in the making after the trends for hip hop and electronica music. Hits from Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Duffy are filling up the radio station rosters.