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soul

Soul as a style developed out of r&b and gospel, becoming a distinct strand in the mid to late 1950's when Ray Charles took both forms and began adding pop flavourings, culminating in his 1959 hit "What'd I Say", with its call-and-response gospel structure, secular lyrics and electric piano backing. Another important early soul artist with his roots firmly in gospel was Sam Cooke, the first gospel singer to make the crossover into mainstream pop, epitomised by his 1957 breakthrough hit "You Send Me". At the time, using one's gospel training to sing secular lyrics was seen as a betrayal by the gospel community, and had Sam failed as a pop singer there would have been no way back for him. His phenomenal success led the way for many others to follow, including Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, the Womack brothers and the great Aretha Franklin. A third pioneer, James Brown - "The Godfather Of Soul" - has spanned the whole modern era from soul right through to funk and beyond, writing and performing gospel-tinged r&b such as "Please, Please, Please" as long ago as 1956, the classic soul of "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" in 1965, and the funkier sound of "I Got You ( I Feel Good )" and others in the 1970's.
Since those early breakthroughs soul has been at the centre of American popular music alongside rock, developing many regional stylistic variations, the prominent of which were Berry Gordy's Detroit-based motown label, it's more blues and r&b orientated rival, the Chicago based Chess Records, whose chief soul songwriter was Curtis Mayfield, the gritty, riffing, horn-based style of the Stax label based in Memphis, which found a major star in Otis Redding, and the smooth sound of 1970's Philadelphia soul, epitomised by the writing of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff.
The style's greatest exponent, however, and the acknowledged "Queen of Soul" is the aforementioned Aretha Franklin, an artist whose genius can turn virtually any song into an unforgettable experience. Her career, nevertheless, was eclipsed to some extent by the rise of funk under James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton. Funk's groove-based style began in the mid-1960's and grew into a rival to the disco craze of 1970's, in the process forming the foundations of hip-hop.
Today, classic soul as a vital force appears to have run it's course. Modern hybrids, such as "New Jack Swing", "Nu Soul" and "Hip Hop Soul", although somewhat overwhelmed by commercial pressures and technical innovations of the modern music business, nevertheless continue to produce fine songwriters and artists of the calibre of Bobby Brown, the prodigously gifted Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce Knowles and John Legend.

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Prominent songwriters

Ray Charles
Sam Cooke
James Brown
Berry Gordy
Smokey Robinson
Norman Whitfield
Barrett Strong
Holland-Dozier-Holland
Stevie Wonder
Steve Cropper
Otis Redding
Marvin Gaye
Bill Withers
Al Greene
Curtis Mayfield
Isaac Hayes
David Porter
Gamble & Huff
Ashford & Simpson
Thom Bell & Linda Creed
Darryl Hall & John Oates
Sly Stone
Alicia Keys
John Legend

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audio : R&B / Soul Home Page

books : on Soul

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R&B and Soul

books : on Soul & Gospel