Deep Dive: The Genius of Soul
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.
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.
Big IdeaBy 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.
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:
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.
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: