Author: Giovanna de Faria
Peru State College
Soul’s Historical Context – Civil Rights Movement
Because the history of Soul Music is paralleled to that of the African American Civil Rights Movement, it’s important to bring up a little bit of this very interesting socio-cultural-political movement that was the beginning of a permanent change in American society. During the post- WWII period, the United States went through a process of transformation. Mechanization was becoming more common, especially in crop farms, and rural workers (who were mostly black) migrated to the urban areas of the country searching for work opportunities and a better life. Racial discrimination existed nationwide, stemmed from the slavery years, but it became more apparent once the presence of black people in the cities increased at a fast rate. Throughout the 1950’s, the black population tried to peacefully implement initiatives towards an egalitarian society, with no segregation. There was a lot of resistance from the white population, who in its majority wanted to maintain the status quo. The racial segregation was so ingrained in society that blacks and whites wouldn’t “mix” in public spaces, such as buses, restaurants, schools, movie theaters and even grocery stores. Also, voting was made inaccessible (the “legal” term is Disfranchisement) to African-Americans, who were removed from voter registration by intricate laws, as well by intimidation from white conservatives. However, in 1954, a milestone was achieved; state-sponsored segregation in schools was ended by a Supreme Court ruling. That was the first major step towards the integration of society, but unfortunately it would take a long time for desegregation to be accepted. The black youth was becoming more and more frustrated by the prejudice of whites. By 1960 many protests, marches and other nonviolent manifestations were abounding. During this time of bigger demonstrations for equal civil rights and increased African-American pride, soul music became more than “party music” for young blacks; it became a rallying flag for the Civil Rights Movement. While never solely political in nature, soul music's ascent in the pop charts came to represent one of the first (and most visible) successes of the civil-rights movement. (citation) Soul songs were rapidly adopted by civil rights advocates, and the genre developed with a great sense of achieving something greater than music – true freedom for African-Americans. Thus, songs that were adopted during protests and other manifestations were called “freedom songs”. Thy were sung by activists on the frontlines of the civil rights struggle, and hold an iconic place in the musical history of the Civil Rights Movement. One of the most celebrated of the freedom songs was “We Shall Overcome.” This song was adopted as a kind of unofficial anthem for the movement. It’s origin is uncertain, although some regard it as derived from an early gospel song, "I'll Overcome Someday", by African-American church minister and composer Charles Albert Tindley.(Citation) It reveals much about the improvisational and hybrid nature not just of African American musical culture, but also of the movement itself. The movement was extremely creative and adaptive. For all of its spiritual energy, it was ultimately much less concerned with dogmatic notions of ideological or tactical correctness, than with trying to get the job of destroying segregation and disenfranchisement done. Much like the movement, black music was creative, adaptive, and eclectic. (citation) The Formation and Music Characteristics of Soul
Soul music was born because of the innovations of a post-war generation of musicians who, essentially, turned Gospel into a secular kind of music. Maintaining a “church like” experience, the solo singer suggested the minister role, and the backup chorus suggested the congregation role, in a call-and-response style characteristic of many Soul songs. Evolving...
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