Editor’s Note: SoulTrain.com’s Khadijah Ali-Coleman breaks down soul music in this insightful piece about the true heart and…soul…of the genre!
MYTH # 1: The Term “Soul Music” Only Refers to R&B Music
Contrary to popular belief, the term “soul music” was not borne only from the genre of R&B music, but instead, described the early recordings by Black artists– which was predominately gospel music. The term “soul music” speaks to the experience of the early pioneers of the genre—mostly Black American gospel singers who heavily connected their music to the message of salvation and hope for the soul. Over the decades, the term “soul music” has been used to describe music from diverse artists—from Parliament and Earth, Wind & Fire to India.Arie and Jill Scott.
MYTH # 2: Soul Music Was Born in the 1960s via Motown
While it is true that groups like The Temptations and singers like Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson are icons of the genre, soul music did not begin with Motown Records. The popularity of Motown Records undeniably brought soul music to mainstream audiences in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s in an unprecedented fashion, but Black artists were performing and touring this new genre called soul music as early as the 1940s. Ray Charles is credited with being one of the first artists to label himself as a soul music artist, helping to transition the popular genre of blues into a secular gospel-influenced mutation that instantly attracted new listeners.
MYTH #3: Rock n Roll Birthed Soul Music
Now that we know that soul music was birthed from gospel-influenced sounds, it is important to understand that the genre of Rock n Roll was a product of this sound called soul music, accompanied with a shift in instrumentation used. When Rock n Roll music came to fore in the 1950s, the introduction of the electric guitar gave a new sound to music that was already becoming a fusion of influences—from gospel and swing to jazz and blues. Rock music is the undeniable baby of soul music.
MYTH # 4: Real Soul Music is Only Performed By African American Artists
While soul music was borne from the Black experience of early America, the genre has expanded to give voice those who may not be African American but who are gifted artists of other ethnicities, able to deliver the emotional resonance that is characteristic of the soul music genre. White singers such as Teena Marie, Robin Thicke, Michael McDonald, and Lisa Stansfield are noted soul singers who have enjoyed substantial success within the genre. In addition, other ethnicities have also enjoyed success singing iterations of soul music—whether called Latin Soul, Afro Soul, or British Soul. Artists of all nationalities have helped broaden the spectrum of soul music, bringing diverse flavors to the fore.
MYTH # 5: Soul Music Will Be Dead Soon
The truth is that the notion of “Soul Music” is expanding to include even more genres than could have even been imagined a mere twenty years ago. Like the radio format of “Urban Contemporary” which includes everything from hip-hop, reggae, and R&B to acid jazz, funk and dancehall, “soul music” is constantly expanding to describe music that is founded in the Black experience. Because that experience is always expanding and renewing, it is only naturally that the music follows suit.
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman