Soul music has been characteristically identified by great story telling.
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Whether they were breaking down the doors of genres that had been previously reserved for men or leveling the playing field of only African-Americans, these soul transformers demonstrated that soul has no gender and knows no color. These soul transformers also illustrated to all of us that trends are meant to be shifted and at any given moment, someone can arrive on the scene with a brand of soul that is not only new and different but, ultimately groundbreaking.
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The music was enabled by an unstoppable trend towards black and white integration, as more and more white folks accepted the idea that black culture was not evil or degrading, simply different (African instead of European). The sociopolitical inroads made by jazz also helped legitimize black pop music with the white masses.
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Soul music was also, indirectly, helped by rock music, precisely because rock music made white pop music sound so obsolete. Rock music buried white pop music but did not quite offer an alternative. On the other hand, rock music legitimized black pop music (rock music was basically a white version of rhythm’n’blues), and black pop music did offer an alternative to the Italian crooners and the likes.
As the civil rights movement staged bigger and bigger demonstrations and increased African-American pride, soul music became more than party music for young blacks: it became a rallying flag for the black nationalist movement. While never truly political in nature, soul music’s ascent in the pop charts came to represent one of the first (and most visible) successes of the civil-rights movement.
Lyrics that women could understand were usually the theme.
Soul Songs Told of the disappointment of love:
Silly of me to think that you/ Could ever know the things I do/ Are all done for you/ Only for you- Denise Williams Silly
Soul Songs Told of Hard Learned Lessons
Should have listened/ That you had a wife in New Rochelle / It figures- Pearl Bailey It figures
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Soul music was perceived a music of vocalists, but songwriters were, from the beginning, no less important to define the style.
Chuck Wills was a delicate and evocative singer from Atlanta, who penned his own My Story (1952), You’re Still My Baby (1954), I Feel So Bad (1954) and It’s Too Late (1956), before striking gold with CC Rider (1957), an adaptation of Ma Rainey’s standard from the 1920s.
South Carolina-born baritone Brook Benton (Benjamin Peay), a former member of the Golden Gate Quartet, was the main songwriter of this generation, dishing out A Lover’s Question (1958), a hit for Clyde McPhatter, It’s Just A Matter of Time (1959), Thank You Pretty Baby (1959), So Many Ways (1959), The Ties that Bind (1960), The Same One (1960), Kiddio (1960), etc.
Another South Caroliner, Don Covay moved away from his dance novelties Bip Bop Bip (1959) and Pony Time (1961) to pen soul ballads such as You Can Run (1962) for Jerry Butler, Letter Full Of Tears (1962) for Gladys Knight, his two classics Mercy Mercy (1964) and See Saw (1965), and the mega-hit Chain Of Fools (1967) for Aretha Franklin. Bobby Womack, Sam Cooke’s guitarist, wrote Lookin’ For A Love (1962) and It’s All Over Now (1964) that crossed over into rock’n’roll, and later would reinvent his career as a romantic soul balladeer with That’s the Way I Feel About ‘Cha (1971) and Woman’s Gotta Have Love.
The sound of Detroit’s soul music was the sound of Berry Gordy’s Tamla Motown, the greatest success story of a black enterpreneur in the music business. Gordy borrowed the concept from the assembly lines of Detroit’s car industry: Tamla’s hits were manufactured on industrial scale by a team of skilled professionals. Composers and producers included the trio of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland (alias H-D-H), the duo of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, as well as Norman Whitfield and Smokey Robinson. Session musicians (the Funk Brothers) included bassist James Jamerson (one of the most influential bassists of all times), drummer Benny Benjamin, saxophonist Hank Crosby, trombonist Paul Riser, trumpet player Herbie Williams, guitarists Robert White, keyboardists Joe Hunter and Earl VanDyke.
However, the 1970s were a decade of steady decline for soul music. First it was funk music that reduced the market for soul musicians (and, in fact, many of them simply adopted the funky beat). Then it was disco music that made soul music sound antiquated as party music. Finally, hip-hop music introduced a completely new paradigm (both vocal and rhythmic) for black music.