Writer Paul Culshaw revisits the birth of soul music and its key artists.

The birth of any music is a slow business with signs of the musical genre  appearing gradually and in stages. No new form of music just appears, as if by magic. The road that Soul music took in its delivery to a fully-formed style of music was long and winding. The great James Brown didn’t invent Soul music in the early Sixties any more than Elvis Presley invented Rock ‘n’ Roll in the mid-Fifties.

Soul as a genre emerged as a combination of  Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and gospel music by African-Americans at some point in the Fifties. Hand clapping and voodoo like dancing enhanced the catchy rhythms of Soul, but where did Soul vocalisation come from? That soul, that feeling in the artist’s voice?

We begin this story right back in the Thirties. There stands a gal in front of a band, the big band of Lucky Millinder. It is the Swing era and this band really does swing. The girl is  singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe whose delivery of words and phrasing is certainly rooted in gospel music but also hints at far more with her  ‘from the heart’ Soul inflections. Like most music, Rosetta Tharpe’s is many things from Swing and Gospel to black Rock ‘n’ Roll, but Rosetta is truly ‘The original Soul Sister’.

Born in Arkansas in 1915, she grew into a great songwriter and singer with recordings that include ‘Trouble In Mind’, ‘Shout Sister Shout’, ‘Rock Me’,’ Sit Down’, ‘Pure Religion’ and many more songs jam-packed with Gospel music feeling but full of heartfelt Soul delivery! The seeds were planted and the roots did grow and a most beautiful and splendid plant began to form.

Ray Charles was as cool as cool can be.  He both broke down and laid down new musical boundaries.  He was an R&B artist but he had Gospel music, Soul music and even Country music in his exquisite voice along with the Jazz and Blues which used to listen to on the radio when he was a kid. He had strength and spirit because he knew true hardship having started to go blind at the age of five. His daddy had died when Ray was only 10 and at 15 his mom died too, that was some tough life!

In 1947 Ray moved to Seattle and signed to the Down Beat label as the Maxin Trio and in 1949 released Confession Blues which landed at number 2 in the R&B charts. Ray moved onto Swing Time Records and as a solo artist he recorded ‘Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand’ and in 1951 ‘Kissa Me Baby’. In 1952 he signed to the legendary Atlantic Records and tidal waves of brilliance came forth. Ray was signed to this monumental record company until around 1959 and he released such Soul filled recordings like ‘It Should Have Been Me’,’ Greenbacks’, ‘Come Back Baby’, ‘A Fool For You’, ‘This Little Girl Of Mine’, ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’ and many more of the most inspiring recordings ever made.

The down to earth Rhythm ‘n’ Blues recordings of Ray Charles culminated in the all powerful recording of ‘Hit The Road Jack’. This cocky recording shows the many sides of Ray Charles’ voice -R&B, Gospel and Soul. Ray was so important for having the Soul ingredient in his voice and he was one of the major contributors in developing Soul music. An amazing example of this can be seen in a box set of Atlantic recordings which is called ‘The Birth of Soul’, the first recordings are pure R’n’B and the last ones pure Soul!

To be continued.