Traditional blues and Black church gospel music are the sources of soul music. Pioneers of the 1950s generally learned to make music by singing in church groups. Some genre pioneers include Hank Ballard, Clyde McPhatter, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Etta James, and Ray Charles. This genre emerged because these musicians incorporated blues elements and then switched to secular lyrics.

Origin of Soul Music

Soul music started laying the foundation for funk and disco in the 1970s. This “progressive soul” style included fresh sounds and rhythms. Chicago singer-songwriter and guitarist Curtis Mayfield and Memphis musician Isaac Hayes of Stax Records developed this style. However, James Brown was the one to introduce funk to a global audience. This music style also includes psychedelic rock, jazz, and country music influences over time. This genre has since been the basis for other genres, including disco, hip-hop, modern R&B, and smooth jazz.


Although the origins of soul music trace to various locations, including Detroit, Memphis, Philadelphia, and other cities, the following fundamental components are present throughout the whole genre. Many artists received their musical education from the Black church. Many soul songs borrow terms from Black gospel music, which include call-and-response singing between a lead vocalist and a chorus.

Gospel elements are present in “Love Train” by The O’Jays, “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and “Baby Love” by The Supremes. Various soul composers included blues harmonics in their songs. From the Reverend Al Green’s guitar to Ray Charles’ keyboard, Southern blues influenced much of soul music. Virtuosic vocalists often find a great platform in soul music.

Notable Legends

Many songs thrive on the beauty of the singer’s voice, from Sam Cooke on “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “You Send Me” to Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” Artists like MGs guitarist Steve Cropper and Funk Brothers bassist James Jamerson are among the most well-known soul performers. This music style frequently emphasizes a strong backbeat from its gospel roots.

Many soul bands extensively used horn parts. This was especially true of the music the Memphis-based Stax Records and Hi Records released, run by trumpeter Willie Mitchell, the label’s president. While Motown Records used a horn section less frequently, horns can still be heard on timeless songs like Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street.”This music style has inspired various popular genres since its peak in the 1950s through the 1970s. Soul music strongly affected hip-hop, disco, smooth jazz, dance-pop, house, dancehall, and Latin pop.

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