Soul, the original black music genre, emerged in the late 1950s from the gospel and blues of southern North America. Initially, it referred to a genre characterized by specific (phrased) vocal techniques (Gospel) intertwined with tight musical accompaniment (Jazz, Rhythm & Blues). In response to the devout gospel lyrics, Soul lyrics generally revolve around themes of love and, starting in the late 1960s with increasing frequency, the social and political position of black people, especially in the United States. From this period, it also serves as an umbrella term for a large portion of the vast African-American music repertoire, including Doo-Wop, R&B, Funk, some Jazz styles, and the current New Jack Swing and Rap.
After the significant pioneering work in the late 1950s by singers like Ray Charles (the song “What’d I Say”  is also considered the birth of soul), Sam Cooke, Brook Benton, and singer Dinah Washington, several movements emerged in the 1960s that brought Soul to worldwide acceptance. Some notable names that fall outside of these movements but made significant contributions to the genre include James Brown and Aretha Franklin.
-Chicago Soul (including Jerry Butler, The Impressions, Curtis Mayfield, Jackie Wilson, The Chi-Lites, Nathalie Cole). Through record labels like Vee-Jay and Chess, the general public was exposed to the “Windy City Soul Sound,” which is primarily attributed to Curtis Mayfield. This songwriter, producer, and bandleader of The Impressions had a tremendous influence during this decade. After The Impressions’ Doo-Wop period, he developed the sound that characterizes this movement, partly inspired by the gospel group Swan Silvertones. At that time, he inspired and produced many local talents. Starting in 1970, he embarked on a solo career that helped shape the sound of a new decade.
-Memphis Soul (including Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Isaac Hayes, Staple Singers, Soul Children). The STAX label (originally Satellite Records) played a significant role in the breakthrough of Memphis Soul. The label is known for its meticulously produced style that achieved commercial success while staying true to its ethnic roots. In the late 1960s, artists like Otis Redding, Joe Tex, and Wilson Pickett settled in Memphis, often accompanied by the house bands Booker T & the M.G.’s and The Mar-Keys (along with a dedicated team of songwriters including Isaac Hayes). After the death of Otis Redding and the tragedy involving The Bar-Kays (all killed in a plane crash), Isaac Hayes became the leading figure of Stax and a heavyweight in the genre of black music. In 1975, the company went bankrupt, but the Stax catalog is still available under its own name through Fantasy Records.
-Muscle Shoals and Malaco Soul; Muscle Shoals Soul owes its name to the airport of the same name in Florence, Alabama, where writer/musician Rick Hall establishes his first studio. The label is characterized by its typical (raw) Southern sound, similar to that of Stax. In 1964, the Muscle Shoals studios are aligned with the giant Atlantic Records, which records several major artists there (including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett). Another Southern label is Malaco, which made waves in the 1970s with artists like King Floyd, C.L. Blast, Anita Ward, Z.Z. Hill, and Soul-Blues veteran Bobby Bland. In 1985, Malaco acquires the Muscle Shoals studios and the distribution of Atlantic. When the gospel label Savoy joins in 1986, Malaco becomes one of the largest soul distributors to date.
-Motown Soul (including The Miracles, Martha & the Vandellas, The Supremes + Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Commodores, The Jacksons). The specific “Motown sound” (a combination of R&B, pop, and gospel roots) is not characterized by the label’s early period, which was established single-handedly by Berry Gordy Jr. in 1960. After the initial Billboard successes of groups like The Miracles and The Marvelettes, Gordy acquires several struggling Detroit labels and their artists (including The Temptations). This marks the beginning of a very promising future that yields a series of hits for Motown and related labels like Tamla, Gordy, Soul & VIP. In the early 1970s, the specific Motown sound becomes increasingly difficult to define geographically. Various (less soul-oriented) styles enter both the label and the entire black music industry. During this period, some artists and producers leave the label. In the 1970s, Motown delivers a small number of new global successes, including The Jackson 5 (discovered by Diana Ross), Gladys Knight & the Pips, Diana Ross (solo), and the more funk-oriented Rick James. In 1988, Berry Gordy sells his soul empire (excluding the music publishing company Jobete) to MCA Records. With the advent of New Jack Swing and the preservation of the original genre, the Motown story continues to this day. New artists in the ’90s include Gerald Alston, Basic Black, Blaze, and Johnny Gill, who combine their soul with current technology and dance music trends.
-Miami Soul, although the Miami sound cannot be directly counted among the pioneers, the sound that was developed there in the early 1970s is noteworthy. Betty Wright sets the trend for this with the song “Clean Up Woman” in 1971, followed quickly by Timmy Thomas and the group Beginning of the End. In 1974, the movement receives worldwide recognition with George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby.” The producers are Howard Casey and Rick Finch (who later became known as KC & the Sunshine Band), who blend the sounds of the pioneers and are responsible for a series of hits in the following years. When the TK label (the largest distributor of Miami Soul at the time) becomes inactive in the early 1980s, the movement is almost over. In ’81, KC & the Sunshine Band make a comeback with their biggest success, “Please Don’t Go.”
-Philadelphia Soul means for the 1970s what Motown meant for the 1960s. The key figures behind this movement are Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who, after working for smaller (+ self-established) labels, establish Philadelphia International Records in 1971. With the help of CBS, they lay the foundation for their sound in 1972 with Billy Paul’s worldwide hit “Me and Mrs. Jones.” The house band MFSB creates the sound that Philadelphia seems to have exclusive rights to in the following years. In collaboration with a gigantic orchestra (including many violins), they produce a full and smooth sound that serves as inspiration for later disco music. The Philly sound is therefore also described as “unconsciously commercial yet of high quality.” The heyday continues until the early 1980s, with artists like Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, The Spinners, Lou Rawls, The Three Degrees, The Trammps, and McFadden & Whitehead.
From the 1980s onwards, Soul cannot be strictly defined by geography, and no major new styles are born. However, the genre professionalizes through individual achievements and increasingly connects with other new black music styles such as funk and hip-hop. The body of work is enormous, and after the pioneering work of the New Jack Swing formation Guy (1988), Keith Sweat, and Al B. Sure, it is strongly connected to this modern genre. Modern soul ballads are often found under the names of such artists as Miles Jaye, Keith Washington, Gene Rice, Omar Chandler, Lalah Hathaway, Miki Howard, Boyz II Men, etc. Two artists who have become mega soul stars in recent years are Anita Baker and Luther Vandross (see also Motown ’90).
Sources: Black Music Encyclopedia, Mike Clifford, Jon Futrell, Chris Gill, Roger St. Pierre, Clive Richardson, Chris Tren-gro¬ve, Bob Fischer, Bill Sheehy, Lindsay Wesker. Harmony Books, New York, Pop Encyclopedia, Elsevier.