Soul music is a genre of music made popular in the 1950s and 1960s in the USA. It is thought to have originated in and around Memphis.
It has combined elements of African-American Gospel, Rhythm and Blues, and often Jazz music.
The Civil Rights Movement influenced record labels like Atlantic, Stax and Motown.
Motown Record Corporation
The name ‘Motown’ is an abbreviated form of ‘Motor Town’. It refers to Detroit, Michigan, which in the 1950s was noted for car production and the label’s home city. Motown Record Corporation was founded on the 12 January 1959 by Berry Gordy as Tamla Records, before adopting the present name in September that year.
Motown Record Corporation had a host of imprints. As well as the original Tamla label, there was Tamla Motown for UK and European releases. Another one, Gordy Records, focused on mainstream Rhythm and Blues and soul music.
Motown left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1972. Today, after a stint in New York, the label returned to LA as a subsidiary of Capitol Music Group. It remains a much revered label to this day with a staggering back catalogue.
Stax Records was formed in 1957 as Satellite Records. In 1960, its name was changed to Stax Records with the name taking the first two letters of its co-founders’ surnames (Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton). Based in Memphis, Tennessee, their studio was a former cinema. Behind the unique Stax sound was the studio’s sloping floor and uneven reverberation.
Stax’s most celebrated artistes were Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett and Booker T and the MGs. The original label filed for bankruptcy in December 1975, closing on the 12 January 1976. Their studios were taken over by the Southside Church of God in Christ for $10.
The label was revived in 2003, with the opening of the Stax Museum. A replica of the original studios and a visitor centre was built on the site of the former cinema. First to sign to the new label was Isaac Hayes, who had previously been a session musician for the original Stax.
The oldest soul label was formed in 1947. Originally noted for Rhythm and Blues and Jazz music, then Rock ‘n’ Roll, it became known as a Soul Music label for most of the 1960s. During this decade, a distribution deal brought Stax Records’ releases to a wider audience.
Whereas Stax and Motown remained loyal to soul music, Atlantic gained a reputation for its rock music. As well as bringing Otis Redding and The Drifters to a wider audience, it would later be known for Led Zeppelin, Yes and Coldplay. The label was taken over by Warner Brothers in 1967 along with Elektra. The merged label became known as WEA Records and has a most eclectic roster of artistes.
In the 1960s and 1970s, soul music dominated both the black music charts and mainstream singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Following soul music’s rise in popularity, it has spawn many sub-genres including:
• New Orleans Soul;
• Deep and Southern Soul;
• Detroit Soul;
• British Soul;
• Blue-eyed Soul;
• Memphis Soul;
• Chicago Soul;
• Nu-Jazz and Soul-influenced Electronica;
• Northern Soul;
• Modern Soul;
• Psychedelic Soul;
• Philadelphia Soul.
Top Soul Artistes Through The Ages
Stevie Wonder has sold over 100 million records making him one of the Top 60 best-selling musical artistes of all time. Then known as ‘Little Stevie Wonder’, his first hit was Fingertips in 1963. Recorded live at the Regal Theater, Chicago, he was just twelve years old. His breakthrough record was Uptight (Everything’s Alright), released in 1965.
Around 0.2% of all recording artistes are superstars.
Also known as ‘The Queen of Soul’, Aretha Franklin is one of the world’s best-selling female artistes. She has sold over 75 million records worldwide.
In 1987, Aretha was also the first female performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That year, she duetted with George Michael and got to Number One in the UK singles chart with I Knew You Were Waiting.
Marvin Gaye’s best known for his recording of I’ve Heard It Through The Grapevine which sold 4 million copies worldwide. Following a memorable Levis jeans commercial, it returned to the UK singles chart in April 1986 peaking at Number 8 the following month. However, the song played the most at his concerts was What’s Going On?
Both the album as a whole and the title track of What’s Going On? broke new ground for Motown. Firstly, the album was recorded with all tracks seamlessly following one another. Secondly, Motown’s artistes seldom did political or social commentary. In their music.
Otis also sold around 4 million copies of his most famous song (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay. As well as the 4 million sold, it received over 8 million airplays. His musical influences included Sam Cooke and Little Richard, with his vocal style exemplifying the Stax Sound. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
Commonly known as ‘The King of Soul’, Sam Cooke was a singer-songwriter who focused on singles and by the end of his career, had 29 Top 40 hit singles in the Billboard Charts. In the UK, he had nine Top 30 singles, though his biggest hit came 22 years after his death. As with Marvin Gaye, a Levis advert in 1986 helped; Wonderful World got to Number 2 in the UK singles chart in April that year.
Born and raised in Detroit, Diana Ross joined The Primettes, whom after joining Motown changed their name to The Supremes in 1961. Under Berry Gordy’s watch, success was hard to come by till 1964 when Where Did Our Love Go? and Baby Love got to Number One in the Billboard charts. With Diana Ross on lead vocals, The Supremes became America’s biggest selling female group.
By 1970, Diana Ross became a successful solo artiste enjoying international chart success. As a solo artiste her most famous songs include I’m Still Waiting, Upside Down and Chain Reaction. She has also duetted with Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye.
Soul Music Dynasties:
• King of Soul: Sam Cooke or Otis Redding;
• Queen of Soul: Aretha Franklin;
• Godfather of Soul: James Brown;
• Prince of Soul/Prince of Motown: Marvin Gaye;
• The First Family of Soul: The Jackson 5;
• King of Pop: Michael Jackson;
• Five Mighty Pop Divas of the Sixties: Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Martha Reeves.