Sam Cooke was an exceptional artist in American popular music history. Cooke specialized in soul, gospel, and R&B. but Cooke was most famous for his soul music. Gospel music and soul music are very similar, but soul music pertains more to feelings and is a combination of R&B and gospel music. Cooke was known for smooth tone, beautiful “phrasing”, melodic style of songwriting, and use of vocal “melisma’s” which were one syllable words with several notes. According to Ritz (2016), “Cooke was a major figure in the history of popular music and, along with Ray Charles, one of the most influential black vocalists of the post-World War II period.” This statement is especially true when you consider just how many hits that Cooke had. Some of Cooke’s greatest hits include “You Send Me,” “Wonderful World,” and his magnum opus, “A Change is Gonna Come”. Although all of Cooke’s music contains Cooke’s signature characteristics, “A Change is Gonna Come” is both Cooke’s most famous and impactful song for many reasons.
“A Change is Gonna Come” is widely considered Cooke’s most well-known song because of its themes of political change, optimism, and American race relations during the 1960s. The song incorporates many of Cooke’s characteristics like his smooth and soulful vocal delivery, sad undertone, and lyrics that speak volume. The lyrics talk about how a change needs to come, and Cooke uses examples of going to the movies and death to emphasize the fact that a change needs to be made for everyone which includes blacks, whites, and other minorities to have equality and justice for all. Ritz (2016) emphasizes how strong the song really is by stating, “the song (it) is an anthem of hope and optimism for all.” What makes this song even more notable is the fact that it was released posthumously a year after Cooke’s death which was in 1964. This song, alongside Cooke’s other works of music, led to him becoming known by many as the king of soul music. Another artist that was important in the genre of soul music is James Brown, who we will talk about next.
James Brown was an African-American artist who was most well known for his music in the soul genre, and he is known for defining the sound in the musical genres of soul and rap. Brown was known for his talents in playing multiple instruments such as the keyboard, bass, and drums, and he had raspy vocals with raw emotional performance. Some of Brown’s most famous hits include “Try Me”, his first #1 hit, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, and “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Because Brown was known for his talents in the soul genre, he helped usher a new form of music known as minimalism. According to Quintero (2016), minimalism is “the use of short repeating musical phrases to create a hypnotic effect” (p. 81). Besides the impact that Brown had in the genre of soul, funk, and rap, he was also known as a spokesperson for African-American civil rights.
“Say it Loud- I’m Black and I’m Proud (Part 1)” was released as a two part single in 1968 by Brown, and the song was a great success for a variety of reasons. For instance, the song advocated for a nonviolent approach to obtaining civil rights through its lyrics that feature black empowerment and peaceful protesting. Additionally, Brown used the song to address African-Americans who wanted to obtain their rights by force rather than by peace. The results of this song included many high chart placings. According to Korpuz (2017), “I’m Black and I’m Proud” peaked at number 10 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968, and the song remained #1 on the hot R&B charts for 6 weeks during that time.
The legacy of James Brown is very noteworthy. Brown has often been dubbed “The Godfather of Soul” and “Soul Brother #1” because of his great skills in the musical genres of soul and funk. Brown was also able to use his gifts in music to make a positive, black-empowering song that advocated for peace rather than violence. Now that I have discussed James Brown, let us talk about the impact and legacy that Aretha Franklin had in American culture and music.
Aretha Franklin was an African-American soul artist, and she is what you would call an exceptional musical artist. According to Quintero (2016), Franklin grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and at age 8, she was singing in the New Bethel Baptist Church under the tutelage of her father who is Reverend C.L. Franklin. As Franklin grew older, she made a name for herself by recording for record companies like Columbia Records, Atlantic Records, and Muscle Shoals which she later used to record her first #1 “Respect.”
Although originally a song by Otis Redding that was written and produced in 1965, Franklin covered “Respect” in 1967 and made the song her own #1 hit. The song is famous for its instrumentation, soul music vibe, Franklin’s vocals, and most of all, the positive, feminist message that Franklin used to advocate for all women in America. Franklin’s cover of the song is so famous that “Respect” eventually became Franklin’s first hit song and a slew of other hit songs followed. Other hit songs that followed “Respect” include “Baby I Love You” and “Chain of Fools.” Additionally, Franklin did covers of other songs by other artists. Quintero (2016) states, “(Franklin gives the songs) defining soul renditions, as in Carole King’s “Natural Woman,” the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” or Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (p. 96).
Franklin’s legacy pertains to the fact that she used her voice and talents in music to make soulful songs that had positive messages that impacted American culture. Franklin’s signature song “Respect” is a great example of a song that originally had a much different meaning but eventually changed to have a much more powerful message of female empowerment and respect. Although Franklin, Brown, and Cooke have all used their talents to advocate

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