Soul Music Definition

Soul music first gained popularity in the 1950s, although it developed out of styles dating much earlier. Although other genres may fuse as well, soul is a fusion of gospel with rhythm and blues.

Soul is a genre of music that first made an appearance in the 1950s in the United States. It has its roots in African-American culture and was influenced by both rhythm and blues (R&B) and gospel music. There is no set pattern to how these two genres come together, but rather there is a complete melding of the sacred and profane to create an entirely new genre. Other genres can influence soul as well, with jazz the most common.

The first signs of soul music emerged from the major African-American markets of Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago and Memphis. To many, Memphis is considered the birthplace of soul. The first inklings of the genre were heard in the 1940s with artists such as Louis Jordan, Mahalia Jackson and Big Joe Turner. In the mid-1950s, there was an influx of public interest in African-American music, and record companies clamored to find and sign African-American talent. Record studios devoted to producing their music began popping up in major market areas around the country.

There are three artists who are generally seen as the founders of the soul genre: Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and James Brown. Sam Cooke was an established gospel artist before crossing over into popular music with hits like "You Send Me" in 1957 and "Twistin' the Night Away" in 1961. Ray Charles brought a bit of jazz into the mix with songs like "What'd I Say" in 1959, a move that would influence funk in the coming years. In 1956, James Brown's "Please, Please, Please" shocked listeners with its gospel-like pleading set to secular lyrics. Throughout the 1960s, Brown would continue to evolve the style, gaining the title "The Godfather of Soul" along the way.

Soul music can be divided into types by geographic location or by the genre that it fuses with. Memphis Soul, Philadelphia Soul, Chicago Soul and New Orleans Soul are a few that are geographically organized. They usually correspond to a particular style that was developed by the recording studios in that location. Motown Records of Detroit and Stax of Memphis are two of the most recognizable labels that influenced the overall style of soul music in their city. Psychedelic Soul, a combination of psychedelic rock and soul created during the 1960s, is an example of a kind named for the fusion it adopts.

Soul is a genre that continues to grow and develop. Artists such as John Legend, India.Arie, Amy Winehouse, Anthony Hamilton and Joss Stone carry on the proverbial torch and bring soul to new audiences. Some combine classic soul licks with edgy modern lyrics, while some others add a bit of rock or hip-hop influence.

Approved by Jesse Anderson