Deep Dive: The Genius of Soul

 

In every moment in the history of the world in the past 100 years, American music is right at its center.

Adam Gopnik Staff Writer, The New Yorker; Author, At the Strangers' Gate
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Deep Dive: The Genius of Soul

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Born out of gospel, R&B, and jazz in late 1950s America, soul has permeated music culture so thoroughly that its influence can be heard everywhere from modern country music to rock and hip-hop. So what is it about soul, and how did it become a soundtrack to some of our nation’s most defining moments? The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik and Grammy Award-winning artists share — and demonstrate — what soul means to them.

Is soul music the greatest achievement of humanity in the 20th century?
Is soul music the greatest achievement of humanity in the 20th century?
Empathy and authenticity form the soul of soul music
Soul music fuels unity when it’s most needed
How do you keep soul music alive in a pop music era?
1.

Is soul music the greatest achievement of humanity in the 20th century?

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04:22

Adam Gopnik, the panel’s moderator and staff writer at The New Yorker, starts the deep dive into soul music with a bold claim about the importance of music to humanity. Gopnik insists that humans’ ability to interpret sound waves as music is the singularly most impressive thing we are capable of as a species.

By far the most astonishing thing the human mind ever does is to take sound and turn it into music, and then take music and turn it into meaning.
Adam Gopnik

But Gopnik doesn’t stop there; he makes a compelling case that American music, rooted in the artistry and experience of black Americans, is the defining artistic achievement of the 20th century. Broadway hits, rock and roll, and hip-hop were all born out of the same musical tradition that has spread to every corner of the globe.

Though they’re ubiquitous names in the music industry today, soul record labels like Motown Records, Stax Records, and Atlantic Records sprung up mid-century in African American cultural hotbeds. They fostered talent and were a conduit for soul music when other record labels refused to sign most African-American artists.
2.

Empathy and authenticity form the soul of soul music

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41:22

Vocal artist Clint Holmes puts into words what so many people struggle with: the essence of soul, and some might argue the essence of all music. Watch as he and other panelists talk about how empathy and authenticity are the heart of soul music:

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Empathy and authenticity form the soul of soul music

3.

Soul music fuels unity when it’s most needed

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51:15

What role do musicians, and specifically soul musicians, have in politics and society? It’s a question that vexes almost every artist across genres.  See how Clint Holmes, Adam Gopnik, and Alvin Chea bring their perspectives to help answer this questions:

  • Clint Holmes: In a time like this, where things are divided and there's so much anger, that what we offer is more than a distraction. It’s a distraction, but it’s more than that. It’s a distraction that can actually feed unity and feed creativity and feed what a lot of us feel what we are fighting to maintain.

  • Adam Gopnik: Absolutely. Democracy gets built from the ground up. It gets built from creative communion of like-minded people, it doesn't get imposed from the top down.

4.

How do you keep soul music alive in a pop music era?

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56:22

Being on the popular TV show “The Voice” was intimidating for Kyla Jade, but she was most concerned about being able to sing a song "in its truth.” Jade chafed when her soul upbringing clashed with the pop music foundations of shows like “The Voice.” Listen to Jade describe how she maintains her personal and artistic commitment to soul music:

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