Soul music is a type of music which grew out of rhythm and blues and gospel during the late 1950s and early 1960s among African Americans in the United States. Soul music usually features individual singers backed by a traditional band consisting of rhythm section and horns.
The development of soul music was spurred by two main trends: the urbanization of R&B and the secularization of gospel. Artists like Ben E. King, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers mixed the passion of gospel vocals with the catchy, rhythmic music of R&B, thus forming soul in the late 1950s. Socially, the vast audience of white teens who had been listening to (primarily) watered-down white covers of black R&B and rock hits began demanding records by the original black artists, such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry. By the late 1950s, this had caused several record labels to seek out marketable versions of black music. The most influential labels were Stax, based out of Memphis, and Motown, based out of Detroit.
During the 1960s, soul music was popular among blacks in the US, and among many mainstream listeners throughout the United States and Europe. Blue eyed soul artists (white musicians who performed for white audiences) like the Righteous Brothers achieved the greatest success in the short term, though artists like Aretha Franklin and James Brown have proven more enduring. Other prominent soul performers of the period were Bobby Bland, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Joe Tex, Along with blue-eyed soul came a large number of regional varieties of soul.
By the early 1970s, soul music had been influenced by psychedelic rock and other influences, and artists like Marvin Gaye (What's Going On) and Curtis Mayfield (Superfly) released album-length statements with hard-hitting social commentary. Artists like James Brown had led soul towards a dance-oriented jam festival, resulting in 1970s funk bands like P Funk, The Meters and War. During the 70s, some highly slick and commercial blue eyed soul acts like Hall & Oates achieved mainstream success, along with The Delphonics and similar Philadelphia soul groups. By the end of the 70s disco was dominating the charts and funk, Philly soul and most other genres were dominated by disco-inflected tracks.
After the death of disco in the late 1970s, soul superstars like Prince (Purple Rain) and Michael Jackson (Off the Wall) took over. With sultry, sexually charged vocals and dance-able beats, these artists dominated the charts throughout the 1980s. Female soul singers like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Tina Turner also gained great popularity during the last half of the decade.
In the early 1990s, alternative rock, hair metal and gangsta rap ruled the charts, though New Jack Swing groups began to merge hip hop and soul. Boyz II Men was the most popular of these groups, which quickly fell out of favor. During the later part of the decade, nu soul, which further mixed hip hop and soul, arose, led by Mary J. Blige, D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill.
- blue eyed soul -- Performed by white artists, blue eyed soul is characterized by catchy hooks and sweet melodies. It arose from a mixture of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley-derived rockabilly and Dion and The Four Seasons-inspired doo wop
- Detroit soul -- Dominated by Berry Gordy's Motown empire, Detroit soil is strongly rhythmic and influenced by gospel. It often includes handclapping and a powerful bassline, and includes violins, bells and other untraditional instruments. Motown's house band was Earl Van Dyke & the Funk Brothers.
- Memphis soul -- Generally refers to soul produced at Stax records in Memphis. Stax self-consciously nurtured a distinctive sound, which included putting vocals further back in the mix than most contemporary R&B records, the use of horn parts in the place of background vocals, and a focus on the low end of the frequency spectrum. The vast majority of Stax releases were backed by house bands Booker T and the MGs (which included soul legends Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson) and the Memphis Horns (the splinter horn section of the Mar-Keys), and the label counted Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, William Bell, and Eddie Floyd among its stars. People interested in learning more about Stax's history and music are advised to check out Peter Guralnik's Sweet Soul Music (which also serves as a very poetic primer on Soul in general) and basically anything by Rob Bowman (who seems to have talked with nearly every still-living person who was connected with Stax).
- New Jack Swing
- Nu soul -- Though usually said to have appeared in the mid-1990s, elements of nu soul, a mixture of soul-styled vocals with hip hop beats and rap interludes, first appeared in the late 1980s with artists like Keith Sweat, Alexander O'Neal and The Force M.D.s. During the early 1990s, En Vogue and Lisa Stansfield continued to bride the gap between New Jack Swing and nu soul, which were distinct genres by the time D'Angelo, Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys began massively popularizing the sound.
- Philadelphia soul
- Quiet Storm -- Usually said to have been invented by Smokey Robinson's Quiet Storm, the genre of the same name is laidback and relaxed easy listening which achieved great mainstream success during the 1980s with artists like Luther Vandross and Anita Baker.