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4 southern soul songs to start your weekend

Amanda Parris
Listen to Marvin's Room, March 2nd 2018

Marvin's Room with Amanda Parris on CBC Radio


What exactly is southern soul music? It’s a genre made famous by musicians who created raw R&B classics south of the Mason-Dixon line in the '60s and '70s. It’s the lovechild of blues, gospel, country and early rock 'n' roll and its resumé boasts legendary names such as Otis Redding, Al Green and Aretha Franklin.

To set your weekend off just right, here are four songs from the southern soul catalogue.

Ray Charles, ‘I Got a Woman’

The lord’s music — gospel — or the devil’s music — the blues — were the primary choices for Black singers 60 years ago. At the time, Ray Charles was an up-and-coming singer travelling on the road with his band when one day he heard the song “It Must Be Jesus” by the Southern Tones playing on the radio, and something started buzzing in his mind. Charles began to build an entirely new song, one that would combine the lord’s music with lyrics that definitely shouldn’t be heard in church. The result was the song “I Got a Woman.”

When it hit the airwaves people were scandalized. Pastors called it blasphemy, religious groups tried to mobilize boycotts and held protests in front of his shows. But Pandora’s box was open. It was a crossover hit that for the first time ever combined two very different audiences. The song became the prototype for an entire genre we now call soul music.

Sam & Dave, ‘Soul Man’

At the height of the civil rights movement, artists were frequently inspired by daily headlines of racial injustice to create a soundtrack for their time. One night while watching the news, Isaac Hayes saw footage of the 12th Street riot in Detroit. While observing the destruction, he noticed that there were a few buildings that were untouched. These buildings were all Black-owned businesses that had been marked with one word on the outside to protect them from looters: "soul."

Inspired, Hayes collaborated with David Porter and wrote the song “Soul Man” for the R&B duo Sam & Dave. The hardworking soul man described in the song was seen as a positive contrast to the images of violence and crime often associated with African-Americans in the media.

Linda Lyndell, ‘What a Man’

When Linda Lyndell was signed to Stax Records, she was seen as the next big act in the world of blue-eyed southern soul. Success appeared imminent when her song “What a Man” was released and made it onto the Billboard charts. But a song on the radio also means more eyes on your career, and some of those eyes didn’t like the idea of a white woman singing Black music. In response to the release of her song, Lyndell began receiving threats from white supremacist groups like the KKK. In fear for her life, Lyndell made the difficult decision to leave the music industry.

For almost 30 years she stayed away from music, until a royalty cheque arrived in the mail in the early '90s. Lyndell realized that a young rap group called Salt-N-Pepa had sampled her song for their own hit called “Whatta Man.” It was just the spark that got Lyndell back on the mic, and in 2003 she performed at the opening of the Stax Museum.

Solomon Burke, ‘Cry to Me’

Solomon Burke is known as the king of rock and soul. His music helped to build the sonic bridge between gospel, R&B and country: the holy trinity of the genre later known as southern soul. His voice embodied the signature "beggin’ and pleadin’’ quality of the best in southern soul ballads as can be heard in this next song.

Burke was also known as a sly hustler who was constantly thinking of different ways to make a quick buck. He would perform at shows wearing a pink robe and gold crown and then would sell “Solomon’s Magic Popcorn” outside the venues. On tours throughout the south — where segregation reigned supreme and it would be miles before tour buses could stop for food — Burke would bring a giant chest of sandwiches on the bus and sell them to the hungry Black performers. Can’t knock the hustle.

Marvin’s Room playlist for March 2, 2018:

Zacari and Babes Wodumo, “Redemption”
Rihanna, “Watch n’ Learn”
Linda Lyndell, “What a Man”
En Vogue, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)
Liza, “Here to Stay”
Brandy, “Have You Ever?”
Kehlani, “Honey”
Childish Gambino, “Terrified”
ODIE, “Little Lies”
Solomon Burke, “Cry to Me”
The Sheiks, “Eternal Love”
Lou Val, “Easier Said than Done”
Cold Specks, “Winter Solstice”