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Soul Music: Features, Origins and the Greatest Artists of all Time

Ray Charles

There’s a reason Soul Music has its name - it’s truly music for the stressed out, angsty soul. Those of us who crave the dulcet tunes of James Brown, Sam Cooke, and more recently, Adele, understand what music of this nature truly is. We explore its features, trace its origins and meet some of the exciting soul singers of our generation.

Sam Cooke

Features of Soul Music

Soul Music is a genre of African American music. It developed as a sub-genre of rhythm and blues in the 1950s and 1950s when singers like James Brown and Sam Cooke became its champions.

As its name suggests, soul music is music that emotes. This wealth of feelings has become Soul Music’s defining characteristic. Love is one of these many emotions, so many soul tunes are love songs.

Otis Redding

Origins of Soul Music

Soul Music is a popular genre that stemmed from the birth of the Civil Rights movement and bears traces of other music(gospel, jazz, and R & B.). It arose in the African American Community in the early 1950s and 60s, owing to the popularity of the Civil Rights Movement, an evocative source of great emotion. African-American musicians used the term to emphasise their feelings about being African American in the United States.

This music genre was the result of the commercialization of Rhythm and Blues tunes. The term “Soul,” became a term of reference for secular music that bore gospel traces, The first gospel tune, apparently emerged with the group The Five Royales and their iconic tune, Shake A Hand.

Many soul tunes came to be because singers altered the tunes of gospel music and turned them into secular songs. One example is Ray Charles’ hit, What I’d Say, in which there is a call and response sequence between himself and his backup singers, the Ralettes.


Soul Music is all about emoting and expressing feelings, so it is no surprise that it has a wide range of emotions.. The rhythms can be gentle and smooth to convey feelings of romance. Alternatively, rhythms can e raspy and rushed to coney anger and disappointment..


The rhythm of soul tunes is quite distinct. , Soul has its origins in the rhythm and blues music of the 1950s. Which is mostly 12 bars and 3 lines.

Indeed, there is a lot of emphasis on the use of loud rhythmic instruments like horns, trumpets and trombones.

Call and Response

Soul music has a heavy call and response feature. One singer issues a call while another echoes that or says a phrase in response.


Soul music isn’t for you if you are the sort of person who is easily bored with the same-old, same-old. By this statement, I mean that it makes heavy use of repetition. Many Soul Music numbers make use of the same notes and rhythmic patterns.

10 of the Greatest Soul Singers of All Time

1. Luther Vandross

Vandross emerged as a beacon of Soul Music in 1974 when David Bowie asked him to provide backup vocals on Young Americans. Though he had an exciting career start, he wasn’t a bona fide ambassador for the genre until the 1980s when he started producing hits like “Never too Much,” “Give me the Reason” and Since I Lost My Baby. He was Soul’s statesman until his death in 2005.

2. Smokey Robinson

Known for dulcet tunes like “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me,” Smokey was a beacon of soul in the 1950s. This musical talent helped Barry Gordy to lay the foundation for Motown Records as well. His greatest hits include “You’d

Better Shop Around,” and “Tracks of My Tears.”

3. Marvin Gaye

His silky vocals could reach an unreal falsetto or become frighteningly raspy..

Marvin Gaye was responsible for the iconic hit, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine and later redefined soul with his hit, “let’s get it on.”

Gaye’s life was far from perfect. Cocaine addiction overwhelmed him in th 1970s. Tragically, his father shot him in his kitchen in 1984.

4. James Brown

The Godfather of Soul was also the Hardest Working man in show business, and the prolific entertainer had a lot to show for his work. His pleas of pain in his 1956 single Please Please Please moved people so much that it stayed in the number one spot for months..

5. Stevie Wonder

Stevie wonder scored his first hit, FIngertips, at the tender age of 13. The then-teenager-now-music icon embarked on an iconic music career that would span nearly six decades. He remains one of Motown’s reliable sources of hits. His successes include My Cherie Amour, You are the SUnshine of My Life and many others.

6. Al Greene

Greene could be one of the most romantic soul singers of our time. Singers like Justin Timberlake describe songs such as Let’s Stay Together and Tired of being Alone as “serious babymaking music.” Greene started to devote his life to God in the eighties and released a string of Gospel tunes.

7. Otis Redding

Redding topped the charts only once with Sitting on the Dock of the Bay but left an indelible mark on the music industry, Redding still looms large as a soul musician with a distinctive sound. He drew on gospel and blues to give his music flavour. The iconic singer was known for his versatility - he could croon or preach as was needed.

8. Aretha Franklin

Known as the Queen of Soul, Aretha embodied the African-American spirit.

Barack Obama himself attested to this, having said that “American History wells up when Aretha sings.” In his accolade, he also mentioned her ability to connect the African-American spiritual, blues and Gospel music. Her hits included RESPECT and her breakthrough single, “I’ve Never Loved Anyone the Way I Love You.”

9. Sam Cooke

We move from the Queen of Soul Music to its King., and Sam Cooke carries regent’s wear exceptionally well. With his smooth-as-silk vocals, he delivered hits like “” You Send Me”, with passion and sensuality.. His reign over the music industry came to an unfortunate end when he was mysteriously shot, at a Los Angeles Motel at the tender age of 33.

10. Ray Charles

What is Soul Music without the man whose iconic song became the state anthem of Georgia? Charles played any music one could think of and had unsurpassable versatility. Songs like “Mess Around, “ “HIt the Road Jack,” and

of course, Georgia on My MInd,” made hima constant feature on the charts.

He reinvented contry music in a way that suited him., so it has definite elements of soul. The music industry would not have been the way it is wiithout him


Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top Ten Greatest R and B Soul Singers of All Time

Rolling Stonehttps://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/rolling-stone-readers-pick-the-top-10-rb-soul-singers-of-all-time-16607/

© 2021 Michelle Liew


Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 10, 2021:

Very elaborate, nice article.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 10, 2021:

Enjoy musical food for the soul.

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