The sound of Sixties Soul was built on elements of Gospel, R&B, Blues, and Country. These ingredients, drawn from across the American musical landscape, paralleled the mixing that was happening in the recording studios as black and white players cross-fertilized musically and culturally. In the years prior to the death of Martin Luther King, it almost seemed like recording studios provided a kind of world apart, an environment in which the trouble of race relations was lifted, so long as the music was at the center. With the infectious groove of R&B, the emotional power of Gospel in its lyrics and vocal stylings, and a mix of America’s Folk music sprinkled throughout, Sixties Soul brought the people together.

Seen from the 21st century, Sixties Soul music is without question one of America’s great contributions to world culture. Artists including Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, James Brown, the whole of the Motown Records stable, and many others made recordings that continue to affect audiences aross the globe. The remarkable performances and deep groove of Soul, together with its social message, influenced much of what happened in later R&B and Hip Hop. And among the most significant aspects of the Sixties Soul story is the connection between the music and the then-burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

If a group such as Booker T. and the MGs contributed key recordings to the Sixties Soul catalogue, they were also a mixed race band, a symbol of what the Civil Rights movement hoped to achieve. From another angle but in the same period, Motown’s Berry Gordy was making recordings he pitched as “The Sound of Young America,” tracks that featured black performers but aimed for a mixed audience. In both cases, music culture proved itself to be ahead of the society from which it sprang, bringing people from very different backgrounds into a meaningful dialogue that challenged the racial dynamic in America.

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The Memphis Sound and Racial Integration

How has Memphis music culture provided one example of art’s capacity to challenge the racial boundaries that have so often structured American life?
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Soul Music and the New Femininity

How did Aretha Franklin represent a new female voice in 1960s popular music?
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Music and Political Movements

How did Sixties Soul help give voice to the Civil Rights movement?
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The Civil Rights Movement: A Document-Based Question

In what ways did the Civil Rights Movement mark a turning point in United States history?