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Primary Stylistic Influences: R&B, Blues, Gospel Music, Jazz
Secondary Stylistic Influences:

"Soul is the music people understand. Sure it's basic and it's simple. But it's something else 'cause, 'cause, 'cause it's honest, that's it. Its honest. There's no fuckin' bullshit. It sticks its neck out and says it straight from the heart. Sure there's a lot of different music you can get off on but soul is more than that. It takes you somewhere else. It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite."
Jimmy Rabbitte, The Commitments

Showing up in The '50s and The '60s, soul music was developed by African-American musicians by combining elements of Gospel Music and R&B. The result was something that sounded a lot like Gospel but (usually) without the religious themes.

In the heyday of soul — starting in the late 1950s and running through the 1960s — it was initially divided into two camps: Northern and Southern. Southern soul, whose flagship studio was Stax Records in Memphis, was noted for a rougher sound and harder-edged lyrics, and was mostly marketed towards Black audiences. Northern soul, whose flagship studio was Motown Records in, erm, Motown, was noted for a softer, poppier sound with more "family-friendly" lyrics and elaborate orchestrations, and was specifically engineered by studio head Berry Gordynote  to have crossover appeal to White audiences. Around the same time, other soul scenes percolated in New York (based around Atlantic Records, the premier rhythm and blues label in America, which had previously recorded and published Ray Charles, was home to Solomon Burke throughout the 1960s, and served as national distributor for Stax Records for most of the decade) and Chicago (a halfway house between Motown, Memphis and New York both musically and geographically, and largely centred around the songwriting and production of the Impressions' lead vocalist Curtis Mayfield).

Despite the differences and the commercial rivalry between Stax and Motown there was a definite sense they were one style, with a lot of cross-pollination. This soul — the "classic" soul sound of the 1960s — was the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement, and everything associated with "good" and authentic Black culture was called "soul"-something by analogy (most famously, the term soul food stuck for referring to traditional Black American cuisine). Later, in the mid-to-late 60s and into the 70s, a third soul "sound" appeared when some artists in Philadelphia, most famously the songwriting and production duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, began incorporating elements of Funk, Big Band Jazz and Motown-style orchestration to produce the sweet-sounding variant called "Philadelphia Soul", a.k.a. "Sweet Philly", which in retrospect was probably one of the strongest influences on the nascent Disco (listen to some Philly soul and you'll probably remark how incredibly 70s it sounds).

Soul had a powerful effect on both Rock & Roll and modern Pop, and was the leading form of music for African-Americans until Funk music (itself heavily influenced by soul, and pioneered by leading R&B artists like James Brown and Isaac Hayes) came onto the scene in the early Seventies. Soul kept on; it eventually became nigh-indistinguishable from its forebear R&B as, in the face of the rise of Hip-Hop, the term started to be used for "any music made for and by black people that still has melodic singing"... Purists cringed, of course, but alas, there was nothing to be done.

Every now and then, soul makes some kind of resurgence, variously disguised as (for example) New Jack Swing in the 1990s and neo-soul in the 2000s.

Soul or soul-styled music performed by white artists is generally called "blue-eyed soul". The British are the most likely to try a soul-influenced sound: David Bowie broke into the American market after he switched from Glam Rock to soul (with the New Sound Album Young Americans, recorded in Philadelphia), and two of the biggest soul acts since 2000 are Amy Winehouse and Adele, both as English as they come. The term "plastic soul" is used pejoratively to describe soul-styled music that replicates the sound and characteristics of soul music, but without its innate meaning (which prompted The Beatles to name their next album Rubber Soul, 'cos, wouldn't you know it, they were high at the time and thought that was funny).

Britain is strongly associated with the mod-oriented 'Northern Soul' scene of the 1960s and early 1970s, which grew out of the dance clubs in northern towns like Manchester, Wigan and Blackpool and was sustained by DJs who specialized in tracking down extremely rare soul tracks from obscure labels which had never quite gained mainstream popularity. Many British pop stars who kicked off their careers at the onset of the 1980s, including Elvis Costello, Madness, The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners (whose name was inspired by an amphetamine popular among northern soul fans, which gave its users the energy to dance all night) and many, many more were active participants in or admirers of the northern soul movement. Pete Waterman, later famously one third of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman production team (the "Hit Factory") whose Hi-NRG and synthpop productions provided the sound of British pop music in the late 1980s and early 1990s, began his musical career as one of the top northern soul DJs (alongside fellow Hi-NRG producer/songwriter Ian Levine — later known, bizarrely, as a significant figure in Doctor Who fandom) in the 1970s.

Soul also stayed popular in an unusual space. A mix of all styles survives in North and South Carolina as 'Beach Music' where soul music style with a lindy-hop-style dance called 'The Shag' (no, not the British meaning) started in the 1940s with early R&B and settled into its modern form in the 1980s with music from the Dominoes, the Drifters, the Clovers, the Tams, the Tymes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, and the Chairmen of the Board, along with local acts like The Swinging Medallions, The Okaysions, The Catalinas, and The Embers. The epicenter of this is Myrtle Beach, on the NC/SC border. As Soul faded from popularity in mainstream popular music, Beach Music kept many acts alive and earning money right through to today. The very early days of Beach Music were critical in getting southern white audiences to accept what was then called 'race' records. The songs for Beach Music all have a danceable 4/4 beat and evoke romantic or relaxing seaside moments, as compared to West Coast Surf Rock singing about being in the ocean. Popular titles include "Under the Boardwalk", "Ms. Grace", "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy", "Sixty Minute Man", "I'm a Girl Watcher", and "Give Me Just A Little More Time".

Not surprising, as the Internet took off, there has been some heavy cross-pollination between Beach Music and Britain's Northern Soul crowd.

Soul Train started (predictably enough) presenting soul acts on television, à la American Bandstand. As the black community's tastes in music changed, Soul Train changed its tune a bit (and at some point became inextricably — and rather embarrassingly — linked with Disco), but the roots were still fairly obvious down to the end.

Please do not confuse with the Discworld novel or the 2020 Pixar film.

Soul acts include (in roughly alphabetically order):

  • The 5th Dimension
  • Adele: A British revivalist — aren't there so many? — who broke to international attention thanks to a fortuitous Saturday Night Live appearance and one of the most popular acts of The New '10s. Often credited for putting the focus on her powerhouse vocals as opposed to appearance, though no slouch there either.
    • 21 (2011)
  • Christina Aguilera
  • James Arthur
  • Roy Ayers (this combined with Jazz and Funk)
  • Booker T. and the MG's: A racially integrated instrumental R&B group consisting of keyboardist Booker T. Jones, drummer Al Jackson, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, the Stax house band was most famous for its hit "Green Onions" but were also highly-skilled session musicians who played on nearly every hit cut by the label. In addition, Jones and Cropper were amongst the most prolific songwriters associated with southern soul.
  • Baby Huey
  • Anita Baker
  • Fantasia Barrino
  • Beyoncé
  • Aloe Blacc
  • Toni Braxton
  • James Brown: His stage names have included "the Godfather of Soul" and "Soul Brother Number One" and he essentially became the number one performer in the genre after Sam Cooke died and Ray Charles began to diversify his sound. A major connector between Soul and Funk, his Live at the Apollo album is recognised as the starting point for the latter style.
  • Kandi Burruss
  • Cameo
  • Lewis Capaldi
  • Mariah Carey
  • Chic
  • Ray Charles: Credited as one of the inventors of soul, Ray was probably the first artist to fuse rhythm and blues with gospel; many of his early songs, including "This Little Girl Of Mine" and "Hallelujah, I Love Her So", borrowed melodies from gospel songs. His 1954 hit "I Got A Woman" is frequently described as the first soul song.
  • The Clark Sisters
  • Otis Clay
  • George Clinton
  • Sam Cooke: Along with Ray, Sam Cooke was one of the inventors of the genre, although his songs probably leaned towards gospel moreso than R&B. Although he died young, he left a legacy of great recordings which have been widely covered and continue to influence aspiring singers. His landmark recording "A Change Is Gonna Come" (inspired by his hearing Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind") is often credited as one of the first really socially conscious soul songs.
  • D'Angelo
  • DeBarge
  • Delaney & Bonnie: A Creator Couple prominent in the late sixties, the Bramletts were the first white act to release an album at Stax. After Home tanked, they recorded Accept No Substitute, a country- and rock-influenced followup whose early pressings became subject to a bidding war between Atlantic and Apple. Despite limited commercial success, they were favorites of musicians and tended to attract all-star backing bands. Broke up in 1972, both as a musical act and a couple.
  • Destiny's Child
  • Dru Hill
  • Faith Evans
  • Paloma Faith
  • Eddie Floyd: Started out as a Stax staff songwriter before he recorded his own rendition of "Knock on Wood" (which was originally meant for Otis Redding) that was ultimately released after Jerry Wexler talked Jim Stewart into releasing Floyd's version, which was a massive hit and kickstarted his career as a star in his own right. Despite his success as a singer, he remained one of Stax's most prolific and successful writers.
  • The Four Tops: Another Holland-Dozier-Holland group, the Four Tops were in some respects presented as rivals to the Temptations. They're best known for hits like "Reach Out I'll Be There" and "It's the Same Old Song" that showcased the powerful lead vocals of Levi Stubbs. While their songs had the same polished production as their labelmates, Stubbs's gritty, gutsy voice helped to set them apart.
  • Mothers Finest
  • Aretha Franklin: Well, yeah. The Queen of Soul. Like Ray, Sam Cooke and James Brown, she began her singing career in the late 1950s, mainly performing straightforward gospel-influenced R&B, but when the sixties rolled around she developed the powerful, passionate style that she's famous for with the aid of the Swampers (mentioned below), whose Southern soul style was a vastly better fit for her voice.
  • Teresa Graves
  • Marvin Gaye: Renowned as one of the best soul singers of them all, Gaye got his start as a session musician and songwriter before he stepped into the spotlight himself. Like Wonder, he struggled for creative freedom and won, and the result was the expansive, socially-conscious concept album:
  • Al Green: Most famous for the song "Let's Stay Together", Green kept southern soul alive during the 1970s when funk music had started to become more popular in the African-American community. However, his decision to leave secular music for a while to concentrate on gospel music and his ministry around the same time Stax went under was arguably the death knell for the genre for several years.
  • HER
  • Rick Hall: The owner of FAME Recording Studios and the man who made Muscle Shoals one of the world's hitmaking capitals for a time. The son of sharecroppers who grew up in poverty in rural Alabama, Hall was more into country, but he also had a deep respect for R&B and gospel and provided a safe haven for black and white artists to work together in a then-segregated South, which helped break down racial barriers in music. Like Jim Stewart, he was also a white businessman who focused on a far grittier and edgier style of soul than Motown cared to touch, and both the Swampers (mentioned below) and the FAME Gang built their careers around a stripped-down, rhythm-centric style with none of the lush flourishes of Detroit.
  • Isaac Hayes: Originally a session musician and songwriter who penned most of Sam & Dave's most memorable songs in partnership with David Porter, Hayes became famous in his own right when his Hot Buttered Soul LP turned out to be an unexpected success and made him Stax's biggest star after Otis's passing. His greatest achievement was the soundtrack for the Blaxploitation film Shaft, which won him an Academy Award. In the 1990s he was introduced to a younger audience as the voice of Chef in South Park.
  • Daryl Hall & John Oates
  • Lauryn Hill
  • Jennifer Hudson
  • Phyllis Hyman
  • The Isley Brothers
  • Millie Jackson
  • The Jackson 5: You know who these guys are. Yes, it's the group that featured Michael Jackson and his brothers, put together largely on the initiative of their father, Joe. Even though they were very successful in the early 1970s and had several hits that are still remembered, today they're probably thought of pretty much as "Michael Jackson's old group".
  • Etta James
  • Johnnie Jenkins: a lefthanded guitarist and vocalist known for his wild stage shows, Jenkins came to Stax to record a studio single and expand his audience. Though he had minor success with a later Atlantic album, Jenkins is best known for bringing in his backing vocalist, Otis Redding, to fill the unused studio time...
  • Tom Jones
  • Gladys Knight and the Pips
  • Kool & the Gang
  • Labelle
  • Bettye Lavette
  • Little Richard: Actually signed to a record company that wanted to market him as a rival to Ray Charles. Although he's best known as one of the first and best rock stars of the fifties, his energetic vocal performances and gospel-singing background were very influential on subsequent performers; notably, he was Otis Redding's favourite singer.
  • LeToya Luckett
  • Tim Maia
  • Bruno Mars
  • Curtis Mayfield
  • The Memphis Horns: Originally a trio featuring Charles "Packy" Axton and Andrew Love on saxes and Wayne Jackson on trumpet, they were the other half of the Stax session team. Originally they were the frontline of an earlier instrumental group called the Mar-Keys, which also featured all four members of Booker T. and the MG's and recorded the R&B hit "Last Night". They're responsible for many, many famous horn lines, including those from "Hold On, I'm Comin'", "I Can't Turn You Lose" and "Sweet Soul Music".
  • George Michael
  • MFSB: As the Funk Brothers were to Motown and Booker T. and the MG's were to Stax and the Memphis soul sound in general, MFSB (officially "Mother Father Sister Brother", unofficially "Mother Fuckin' Son of a Bitch", a common compliment within that circle when someone nailed a take) was to the Philly soul sound, mixing the lush orchestration of Motown with the languid, insouciant groove of funk to create a smooth, sultry style that heavily influenced the establishment of disco.
  • Motown: One of the most successful exponents of soul in the history of popular music, Motown was founded by Berry Gordy, who had written songs for Jackie Wilson until he realised there was more money to be made on the business side of music. Motown and its subsidiary labels were famous for the incredibly high standard of musicianship in its house band (the Funk Brothers), the factory-like production of new songs to ensure crossover appeal and, perhaps most importantly, spearheading the racial integration of pop music.
  • Mýa
  • Ann Peebles
  • Shuggie Otis
  • Wilson Pickett: While not officially a Stax artist (he was another Atlantic signing), Pickett captured their style of Memphis soul as well as any other soul shouter, recording big hits like "In the Midnight Hour" (which he co-wrote with Steve Cropper) and "Land Of 1000 Dances" at the Stax studios. After the end of the Stax-Atlantic relationship, he was sent to record in Muscle Shoals, where he was backed by Duane Allman and injected southern rock influences into his music. Toward the end of his hitmaking career, he also dabbled in the nascent Philly soul idiom which would subsequently influence singers like Luther Vandross.
  • Billy Preston
  • Otis Redding: The King of Soul himself, Otis was described by Steve Cropper as the collective Team Dad for the Stax Records stable in spite of his youth. The most consistently successful artist on the label, he was on the verge of major crossover success when he died in a plane crash in 1967. His most famous songs were the posthumous hit "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of the Bay" and his explosive cover of "Try A Little Tenderness".
  • The Righteous Brothers: The best known of the "blue-eyed soul" acts, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield recorded a number of smash pop hits in the '60s, some of which — including "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", "Unchained Melody", "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration", and "Ebb Tide" — actually crossed over to the R&B charts.
  • Minnie Riperton
  • Diana Ross
  • Sam & Dave: Known as the Double Dynamite, the Dynamic Duo and the Sultans of Sweat, the Vocal Tag Team of Sam Moore and David Prater were one of the grittiest, most gospel-influenced acts in all of soul music. While they were signed to Atlantic Records, they were sent to Memphis to record, and became famous for turning songs like "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'" into soul staples. The collapse of Stax's distribution arrangement with Atlantic, which coincided with the death of Otis Redding, saw them leave Memphis to record in New York, which proved to be a turning point for the label.
  • Kelly Rowland
  • Gil Scott-Heron
  • Percy Sledge: Never associated with Stax, although he sounded like a halfway point between that label and Motown, Sledge is best remembered for the song "When A Man Loves A Woman", which earned him a reputation as a One Hit Wonder (even though he had other hits on the R&B charts). Much like Ray Charles, he was notable for integrating country influences into his style.
  • The Spinners: Originally one of Motown's less successful acts, their jump to Atlantic (at the suggestion of Aretha Franklin) and induction of Philippe Wynne into their ranks ushered in far greater success as one of the figureheads of Philly soul that was led by the chart-topping success of "I'll Be Around" and "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love".
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Stax Records: Based in Memphis, Stax typically had a rawer, grittier, harder-edged southern sound in contrast to the smoother, sweeter output of Motown artists. Amusingly, despite putting out music that sounded more "black" than what Motown offered, the label was actually owned by a white businessman, Jim Stewart. Having enjoyed great success in the early 1960s, it suffered several blows toward the end of the decade (including the death of Otis Redding and the cessation of its contract with its distributor, Atlantic Records, which left it without a back catalogue) until the Wattstax event revived its fortunes. Like Motown, Stax attempted to branch out into fields beyond music and sought to encourage social justice and racial integration, but shady financial dealings and money mismanagement ended up killing the label in the mid-1970s.
  • St. Paul and The Broken Bones
  • Jazmine Sullivan
  • The Supremes: In some respects the spiritual successor to pre-Motown girl groups like the Shirelles, the Supremes were one of the primary vehicles of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team. During the sixties they were second only to the Beatles as one of the most popular groups in America and their influence on contemporary performers (such as the late Amy Winehouse) cannot be underestimated. After they split, lead singer Diana Ross became a star in her own right.
  • The Swampers: Along with Booker T. and the MG's, the Swampers (the original house band of Rick Hall and FAME Studios before they split to open their own studio) codified the Southern soul sound and made Muscle Shoals one of the world's premiere hitmaking towns. Furthermore, as an all-white band who regularly played for black artists and had a raw, gritty, funky style with none of Motown's smoothness, they were instrumental in breaking racial barriers.
  • Tamia
  • The Temptations: Originally presented as a clean-cut boy band, the Temptations were one of the most successful all-male vocal groups to perform on the label. In the late 1960s, they became a vehicle for the staff songwriters experiments with psych-rock influences, leading to the creation of a whole new subgenre known as psychedelic soul.
  • Robin Thicke
  • Carla Thomas: One of the first acts associated with Stax, Carla came as a package deal with her more famous father Rufus Thomas but became one of the label's breakout stars in her own right. Associated with a relatively smoother vocal style, crossing over with Teen Pop
  • Irma Thomas
  • The Time: The most successful of Prince's associates; they have their fair share of soul cuts, though they're more associated with funk.
  • Allen Toussaint
  • Meghan Trainor
  • Tina Turner
  • Luther Vandross: One of the last major exponents of soul as such (everybody afterward was "soul, R&B, funk and jazz" on account of blurring distinctions), and a pioneer of the "Philadelphia Soul" subgenre. He got his big break as a backing vocalist on Young Americans, helping Bowie make the aforementioned transition into soul that made him marketable on the left side of the pond.
  • Junior Walker: Originally a session musician, saxophonist and singer Junior Walker was something of an oddity in the Motown stable. With his backing band, the All-Stars, he recorded hits like "Road Runner" and "Shotgun" which showcased his phenomenal talents on the sax. His music was less over-produced than other Motown artists; in fact it sounded almost like it belonged on...
  • Dionne Warwick
  • Barry White
  • Michelle Williams
  • Vanessa Williams
  • Amy Winehouse: Responsible for kicking off a major soul revival in the mid to late late 00's, in not only the United Kingdom but all around the world. Her music directly inspired and paved the way for other notable soul singers of that period including Adele, Paloma Faith, Shannon Jones and the Dap Kings, Duffy, Azealia Banks, Rebecca Ferguson and Emeli Sande. Many have dubbed the subsequent influx of British soul singers enjoying success on the American charts, which was led by Winehouse, a third British Invasion or a British Soul Invasion.
  • Steve Winwood
  • Stevie Wonder: Originally signed as "the twelve-year old genius", Wonder was one of the first Motown acts to take real risks with his music and eventually managed to wrest creative control from Berry Gordy, a move which would inspire many of his contemporaries to do likewise.
  • OV Wright
  • Xscape (Group)
  • Yves Tumor (mixed with Alternative R&B, experimental pop, plunderphonics, Harsh Noise and Psychedelic Rock)
  • Zucchero