The Soul of America

Soul music originated from the evolution of the rhythm and blues genre in the 1960s. It became a very popular genre by the mid 1970s. As soul music arose with the Black Power Movement , led by the Nation of Islam and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which promoted black pride, solidarity, and self-empowerment. Soul music embodied the messages of the movement which is why it was considered the music of the movement.

The sound of soul music essentially mirrored the musical roots of gospel music. The music is characterized by common meter (4/4 time), call and response, the harmonic progressions of gospel, melismas, inflections and various other characteristics. And around the time “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” by James Brown was released in 1965, the use of polyrhythmic structures emerged. Soul music has no set vocal style or timbre similarly to gospel music. A characteristic to soul music is the juxtaposition of different instrumental and vocal textures. You will also find the use of improvisation within the genre. However, with the modernization of music, you know start to see autotune become a characteristic in soul’s sub-genre: neo-soul.


They consider the “pioneers of soul” to be Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and James Brown. Their early music represented the true gospel roots of soul music and its transformation from rhythm and blues to soul. An example that best fits this transition is “This Little Girl of Mine” by Ray Charles (1955). This song is the mainstream version of “This Little Light of Mine.” Other popular soul artists of the genre’s early days are The Temptations; Earth, Wind & Fire; The Beach Boys; Aretha Franklin and many more. My favorite from the soul genre would be Earth, Wind & Fire due to their song “September.”

During the time that soul genre arose, the Black Power Movement was happening. During the time, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committing separated themselves from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. There was a rift caused by a difference in ideologies. The rift caused SNCC to move towards the Black nationalist ideologies of important figures such as Malcom X and the Nation of Islam. Once Black Power turned into a political movement soul became synonymous with blackness. Hence, terms such as “soul brother” and “soul sister” became frequently used.


In conclusion, soul is a genre that is essentially timeless. The music was created  to ease the soul and be an outlet for expression in during the time period. I believe that this genre will exist as long as there is the same struggle that was the cause of the Black Power movements. It is truly a sound that feeds the soul.

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