What is Soul Music? A Closer Look at This Genre

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A lot of people ask me “What is soul music?” Here’s a closer look at this genre of music, its history, and some of its key artists.


When you hear the term “soul music,” what comes to mind? For some people, soul music is simply a style of music that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Others might think of soul music as a type of music that is only sung by African-American artists. While both of these definitions are correct, they only scratch the surface of what soul music is and its importance in American culture.

In its simplest form, soul music can be defined as a type of popular music that is based on rhythm and blues and gospel. However, it would be unfair to try to neatly package soul music into one particular genre. This is because soul music has been continually evolving since it first emerged in the 1950s. As such, it has been influenced by a number of different genres, including jazz, rock n’ roll, and pop.

What has remained constant throughout the history of soul music is its ability to capture the emotions and experiences of African-Americans. This is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that many of the biggest names in Soul Music have come from the African-American community, including Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder.

What is Soul Music?

Soul music is a genre that combines elements of gospel, rhythm and blues, and jazz. It originated in the African-American community in the 1950s and has been evolving ever since. The term “soul” refers to the emotional and spiritual intensity of the music. Soul music is known for its expressive vocals, often accompanied by a call-and-response singing style. The lyrics often deal with personal themes such as love, relationships, and struggles.


The first recordings that could plausibly be classified as soul were made in the late 1950s by Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, who took R&B to a new level of sophistication and popularity. Cooke refined and updated the gospel-based singing of people like Mahalia Jackson, creating a smoother, more emotional vocal style that was ideally suited to pop singing. Meanwhile, Charles brought a rough-edged, gospel-tinged approach to R&B that struck a deep chord with many listeners. These two artists were enormously influential in shaping the sound and style of soul music.

Other important early soul artists include James Brown, who brought a new level of intensity and danceability to the music; Smokey Robinson, whose exquisite songwriting helped define the sound of Motown Records; and Aretha Franklin, who became the most celebrated female soul singer of her generation. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, soul music underwent a dramatic transformation as artists like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green began infusing it with elements of pop, rock, and psychedelia. This fusion of styles produced some of the most beloved and timeless recordings in all of popular music.


Soul music is a popular music genre that originated in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. It combines elements of rhythm and blues, gospel, and jazz to create a unique sound.

The term “soul” can be used to describe many different genres of music, but there are some common characteristics that are often found in soul music. These include:

-A strong emphasis on vocals and the use of call-and-response patterns
-Lyrics that deal with personal, social, or political topics
-The use of horns, pianos, and guitars to create a distinctive sound
-Up-tempo rhythms that make people want to dance

While these are some of the most common features of soul music, there is no one formula for what makes a song soulful. This genre is all about creativity and self-expression, so artists often experiment with different sounds and styles to create their own unique versions of soul music.

The Evolution of Soul Music

Soul music has its origins in African American gospel music and rhythm and blues. The genre developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Soul music combines elements of gospel, R&B, and jazz. The style is characterised by a strong backbeat, call-and-response vocals, and improvisation.


When people think of soul music, they often think of Motown. Motown was a record label that was founded in 1960 by Berry Gordy. The name “Motown” is a combination of “motor” and “town,” which refers to the city of Detroit, where the label was based. Gordy started the label with the aim of creating a sound that would crossover to appeal to both black and white audiences. And he succeeded— Motown became one of the most successful record labels of all time, with hits by artists such as Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder.


Funk is a genre of music that developed in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It combines elements of African-American music, such as blues and jazz, with Brazil’s samba and African rhythms. Funk typically uses a strong rhythmic groove with accents on the off-beat. This creates a “syncopated” feel that is often said to be “groovy” or “ catchy.” The lyrics of funk songs are often playful and positive, with themes of love, sex, and dancing.

Funk bands often have large horn sections made up of saxophones, trumpets, and trombones. The bass guitar is also an important part of funk music, providing the rhythmic foundation for the rest of the band. Drummers often use Latin-style rhythms in their playing. Funk songs are often based around a simple chord progression, making them easy to dance to.

Some well-known funk artists include James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, and George Clinton. Funk has been a major influence on other genres of music, including disco, hip hop, and pop.

Contemporary Soul

Contemporary soul, sometimes referred to as neo soul or simply soul, is a genre of popular music that came to prominence in the early 1990s. It combines elements of older soul styles with contemporary R&B and hip-hop. Soulful vocalists backed by tight productions helped this genre cross over into the mainstream.

Some of the most popular contemporary soul artists include D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Maxwell, and Alicia Keys. This style of music was also popularized by film soundtracks such as Love Jones and The Bodyguard. Contemporary soul often features a mixture of live instruments and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) production.


In conclusion, soul music is a genre that is steeped in emotion and history. It has its roots in gospel and rhythm and blues, and it came to prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Soul music is characterized by its Over time, the genre has been influenced by other genres, including rock, pop, and hip hop. Today, soul music is enjoyed by people all over the world.

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