Soul music has been one of the most influential music genres that the industry has experienced. Drawing on the influences of African-American gospel music, as well as jazz and rhythm and blues, it captured the attention of audiences around the world during the 1950s and 1960s, having developed in America’s big cities during the 1940s. Today, soul music’s legacy lives on in many forms and its influence can be seen blending with other genres. Rock music, in particular, has felt the influence of soul.
Soul music itself is very much a blend. Its distinctive feet-stamping rhythms, call and response sections, hand-clapping and embracing of improvisation were all drawn from African-American culture to merge into a genre that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame described as transmuting gospel and R&B “into a form of funky, secular testifying.”
Nowadays, soul music’s influence can be felt across the charts – and beyond. It is the muse of many modern artists and creators, even in genres which aren’t directly influenced by soul. It’s interesting to consider that the word “music” comes from Greek “mousike,” which means “the art of the Muses”. In Ancient Greek mythology, the nine Muses were goddesses associated with literature, culture, and art, including of course music. And although it may seem that this concept is ancient history, it’s really not: the Muses’ influence exists for girls who like to play the online slot game Muse just as it does for fans of the band Muse. In fact, in both examples, the creative minds behind the game and behind the songs were nurtured in a society in which soul’s influence was pervasive.
Soul music as a genre began to split into new directions towards the end of the 1960s. Funk and psychedelic soul took the music down new paths, while the Motown sound also built up a following of its own. Over the years, different areas of the US developed their own unique soul sounds. In Chicago, soul’s gospel influences were paired with a lighter vibe; in New Orleans, the genre’s rhythm and blues origins came to the fore; in Philadelphia, vocals were inspired by doo-wop and paired with a more orchestral approach. The UK also developed its own kinds of soul music, with Northern soul becoming one of the most well-known, thanks to DJs in the country’s Northern nightclubs competing to seek out and surprise listeners with increasingly rare soul tunes.
Soul music also had a strong influence on the emergence of hip-hop. As soul crossed over into pop music in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, thanks in large part to leading Motown artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Jackson 5, its popularity boomed and children across the US and beyond grew up heavily influenced by its evocative lyrics and superb instrumentation. As parents’ record collections grew, their youngsters absorbed the rich elements of soul music into their, well, souls. When those children grew up and began creating music of their own, soul’s influence was undeniable. Soul samples became a core component of the hip hop scene, which used complex beats and rhythms to turn them into something new.
Rock music enjoyed much the same legacy. Soul’s influence on rock music can be seen through the music of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, who took the catchy, evocative essence of soul and transformed it into their own genre. In the UK, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones also drew heavily on soul’s influences, along with those of blues music.
Today, soul music continues to influence a range of other industries, from online gaming to tourism. Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion has attracted more than 20 million visitors over the years, having a direct impact on the economy of Memphis, Tennessee. Print media also benefited, with plentiful publications serving fans of soul music over the years. The film industry has certainly felt soul music’s influence, with iconic directors such as Quentin Tarantino presenting almost forgotten soul tunes to whole new audiences.
Soul has become such an intrinsic part of popular culture that its influence can be felt around the globe to this day. It just not may be that obvious to those not in the know.