They say the birth of soul came in the 1950s, when the parents of gospel and jazz came together to form a more contemporary and dance-friendly style of music.
The Motor City is no doubt the backbone of modern soul and R&B. It became a powerhouse and industry standard for soul music throughout the country, competing with Atlantic Records and Stax for chart-topping hits throughout the 60s.
The one thing that stands out about Detroit’s golden era of soul music, which isn’t covered very often in many music documentaries or biographies, is the reverberation and inspiration drawn during the civil rights era occurring alongside its timeline.
Soul music isn’t just a genre, its black poetry set to the sounds that emanate from the soul.
If that sounds like a profound statement to be made, well, it’s the only way to describe what anyone feels when they identify deeply with the lyrics, the passion, and the power that soul music provides to black culture.
LOSING TOUCH IN DETROIT
As with practically every music genre in history, once soul music began to dominate the charts and the money showed record labels, the music scene began to fill with copycats and water-down imitations, inspired by the pop movement craze overseas in the UK.
They began using elements of Motown’s greatness to appeal to wider audiences, i.e. white suburbia, even though soul music was very popular with nearly every demographic.
As the inner cities began to transform, gentrification and appropriation of black culture began to push Detroit communities to the breaking point, spurring the infamous Detroit riots in 1967. The destruction spelt the end of the once dominant and influential city of Detroit, as well as the golden era of soul for Motown Records. During their final years, Motown churned out, arguable, their most soulful and raw records of their time, with lyrics laced in civil rights violence, suffocating poverty, calls for peace and unity; even Marvin’s soothing voice could not turn the tides.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF DETROIT SOUL
After the destruction and fall of a city that lead the country in both music and manufacturing, there came a new era of soul music, even with Motown now relegated to Hollywood pop hits. In Detroit, new eras of electronic music were giving way. Dance and techno exploded on the scene, the younger generations’ music didn’t sound the same, but it shared that same spark of music pioneering that Detroit is infamous for.
NEW TECHNOLOGY, SAME SOUL
Along with the new era of electronics brought more tools to produce, birthing the next major black culture of hip-hop. Hip hop is a culture that is derived from soul, the poetry is sped up, but the elements of expression and raw emotion are all there. It didn’t happen until the late 90s, but Detroit officially gave birth to a new genre of soul music, dubbed “Neo-soul”, which was created from the sounds of the late hip-hop producer James “Dilla” Dewitt Yancey.
His heavy sampling of classic soul records and basement sounds of the hard-hitting 808 drums is his signature, which left big impressions on soulful R&B singers, like Lauren Hill, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Amel Larrieux. Who partially owe their success to his creative genius and love for Detroit soul.
Detroit is a city that is a testament to how powerful music is, as long as it comes from the soul, no matter how dire situations may be. Inside, we all have a drum in our chest that connects us all to the sound of music.
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