History of Soul Music

Soul music developed out of folk music styles like the blues and gospel to become one of the most dominant forces in music during the 1960s. Led by Ray Charles, soul artists took gospel music and fused it with "profane" blues lyrical themes. Urban centers such as Detroit and Philadelphia offered varying soul styles, which led to the development of soul offshoots such as disco and funk. Soul's music presence in popular culture made it a platform for furthering the civil rights movement.

Music historians often credit blind pianist Ray Charles with the invention of soul music. Charles fused two black folk music styles, the sacred music of gospel and the secular music of the blues. He replaced the lyrics of praise and salvation of gospel with lyrics about women and sexual innuendo. His 1955 hit, "I've Got A Woman," was one of the first popular soul songs.

Like rock 'n' roll, which really started to blossom during the mid-1950s, soul music reached a pop culture zenith in the 1960s, becoming one of the most dominant forces in popular music. Soul artists such as Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin scored big hits with songs such as "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "Respect," respectively. Motown Records, founded by Berry Gordy in Detroit in the early 1960s, released hit single after hit single, including songs such as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Stop! In the Name Of Love."

As soul music was made primarily for and by black Americans, urban centers with large black populations around the country became fertile grounds for different soul styles. Motown's pop-oriented sound made Detroit a landmark city in the development of soul. Soul music in Philadelphia, known simply as Philly Soul, was characterized by a slicker sound that featured lush string arrangements. Down south, soul music took on an edgier, grittier form that later lead to funk music.

As soul music developed out of earlier folk music styles such as the blues and gospel, it helped influence future music styles itself. Artists such as James Brown created a soul style focused more on the rhythm and groove, a style known as funk. The string arrangements and grooves of soul music laid the foundation for disco. And hip-hop music developed when DJs isolated drum breaks in soul and funk records.

Soul music's presence in popular culture mirrored and helped progress the civil rights movement during the 1960s and 1970s. As leaders such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Huey Newton took to the streets to fight for black rights in America, soul musicians took to the stage and sang out similar messages. James Brown celebrated black pride in his funk hit "Say It Loud-I'm Black and I'm Proud," while Marvin Gaye, known more for his pop hits at the time, highlighted larger social issues for black Americans in "What's Going On."





Approved by Jesse Anderson