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Emeli Sande is Not a Soul Singer

Updated on February 2, 2017
InspiringWriter profile image

As a published author and playwrite now based in China Ava blogs across various platforms.

Emeli Sande

Beautiful lady, beautiful Voice
Beautiful lady, beautiful Voice

Are All Black Singers Soul Singers?

Emeli Sande possesses a 'snuggle up in a thick duvet with a cup of hot chocolate and listen to the rain fall hard against the window,' kind of voice. Each note wraps itself around me and easily persuades a calmness to rise up from deep within.

Perhaps that's why on a Monday morning commute to work I'm the only one looking peaceful.

I consider sharing my Emeli joy with my fellow commuters, but only for a second, I really want to keep her gifts all to myself, for the time being anyway.

I guess you could say that Emeli and I are having a moment.

What matters the colour of the skin she's in?
What matters the colour of the skin she's in? | Source

She Doesn't Hold Back

Emeli lays her heart on the table and asks me to be gentle with it.

Her songs are an echo of vulnerability, pain, confusion, love, longing and gentle triumph.

Her voice too, is all of these things and yes, she moves my soul, but she is not a soul singer.

Unless you ask the UK Media.

'Emeli Sande; Soul Singer;' they write as if that's her full name.

Are journalists purposely limiting black artists to one genre of music?

Can't they capture the true essence of her artistry without resorting to lazy stereotyping, or do they just not know any better?

Emeli Sande; Singer
Emeli Sande; Singer | Source

Better Tell Ira and George

UK media consistently designate all black singers, male and female, as soul artists.

Whenever I perform beautiful jazz tunes such as 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' or 'Embraceable You,' the local press call me a soul singer.

This is news to me as I didn't know that the Gershwin Brothers wrote R&B. I bet they didn't know this either!

I conclude that the lazy press corp have decided my genre based on a stereotypical idea of my ethnic background, rather than actually listen to the well know and obviously jazz rythyms I'm actually singing.

You miss out on a lot in life, if you insist on wearing blinkers.

Colours, sounds, scents, atmosphere, wonders and surprises. All of them reduced to white noise because you didn't pay attention. What a loss.

George and Ira Gershwin

Soul Brothers? I Don't Think So
Soul Brothers? I Don't Think So | Source

What Would Emeli Say?

I don't know how Emeli categorises herself but from listening to her wonderful catalogue I bet she would call it neither soul nor R&B.

Soul is recognisable from the very first notes of the piano or the guitar, the horn or the trumpet. It's announced in the first few beats of the drum.

It's a tempo, a rhythm, an acoustic definition that signals and prepares you for what's ahead.

Soul music is lead by instrumentation and none of Emeli Sande's wonderful orchestration sounds like soul to me. It simply sounds

Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight; The Definition of Soul
Gladys Knight; The Definition of Soul

The Truth Test

Here's the litmus test; if you took away the voice and heard only an instrumental version would you still think of these songs as soul music?

  1. Heard it Through the Grapevine
  2. You Know How to Love Me
  3. I'm Every Woman
  4. Ball of Confusion
  5. My Guy
  6. One Nation Under a Groove
  7. I'll Take You There
  8. If Only You Knew

Probably and the reason is because the voice follows the music, not the other way around.

Soul for the 21st Century

Keri Hilson Millennium Soul
Keri Hilson Millennium Soul | Source


Today's soul singers (and I use the term very loosely); Beyonce, Keri Hilson and Rihanna to name a few, have a totally different sound. It's pop and it's a bit of rock.It's ballad and a bit of hip hop. It's eclectic for sure.

It's aso an expression of the great singers that many consider them to be but it's not the sound of soul.

Music magazines call it urban, but 'Urban' was a term invited by record industry executives to enable white artists who sound black to build a larger audience and by audience, I mean, black audience.

This had the effect of watering down true Soul SInging from black artists and effectively edged them towards the edge of the market, in the UK, seeming to push them out altogether.

Queen of Soul

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin | Source

Ladies of Soul?

Unadulterated, and unapologetic female soul in its purest form is (in no particular order and definitely not limited to...)

  • Roberta Flack
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Mavis Staples
  • Gladys Knight
  • Patti Labelle
  • Ashford of Ashford and Simpson
  • Angela Bofill
  • Angela Winbush
  • Phyllis Hyman
  • Betty Wright

Just writing these names brings back memories of great, enduring music from astoundingly talented professionals.

Thank you ladies, for following your dreams and thereby enabling many others to follow theirs.


The New Kids

and from more recent times;

  • Toni Braxton
  • Mary J Blige
  • Brownstone
  • Jade
  • SWV, (remember them?)
  • 702 (remember them, too?)
  • En Vogue

who took the Baton of Soul passed on by the previous generation and ran with it.

702 | Source

Mad About the Boy

Dinah Washington Jazz Lady
Dinah Washington Jazz Lady | Source

Obviously these are but a few and You can probably add your own to the list.

Mica Paris for example and Eternal.

But please, don't include Tina Turner's rock years or Ella Fitzgerald or Dinah Washington or Ciara, or J-Lo or Tracey Chapman..

These ladies are the cream of the crop and have produced unequalled work in many cases. So yes, It's all good, some of it even exquisite but it's not soul.

Word to the Wise

And to the UK press.....

Stop putting Emeli Sande in a box.

She's only just begun many years of making great music, let it be just that.... 'music.'

When and if she's ever ready to be labelled I'm sure she'll tell us. And, she'll choose her own title.

Award Winning Singer
Award Winning Singer | Source


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    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I agree with mintinfo. Music has no category. You argument is excellent. And I think it does have to with the history of payola and race music (at least stateside, I'm not familiar with UK music history). For some reason, every black singer is soul or R&B and it's not the case.

      My case firmly points to Rihanna more than anyone else. In all honesty, she never had that much of an R&B sound- it was always pop with some kind of twist- whether it was techno, dance, house, Caribbean and so on.

      On the other hand, I consider Adele soul- yeah she appeals to everyone but she has a gut wrenching quality you associate with classic soul.

      From what I've heard of Emeli Sande, she sounds great and makes good music, which is probably the most important part.

      Excellent hub, I really enjoyed reading it :)!

    • mintinfo profile image


      6 years ago

      I had never heard of Emeli until listening to the video above. She is a good singer and the song is definitely soulful. BUT, if she doesn't want to be classified as a soul singer I would understand. Musical categories were born out of racism. Elvis stole (rockin soul) music from Blacks and his record company called it (rock n roll). Not to take anything away from Adele but if she was black she would be classified as Soul.

      What am I saying? Music has no category. Music critics force music into categories because, that way it becomes easier to critique. They say, "for a Black singer she doesn't sound like Patti Labelle so she definitely cannot sing". Then they put a "World Music" label on you and group you in with all the other singers that don't look like how they sing.

    • profile image

      Ola Brown 

      7 years ago

      So true Ava! I think Donna Summer was one of the few black women who was recognised as a singer, who existed outside of the realms of soul and R&B. It's all too easy to categorise black female singers as 'soul' singers, whereas white female singers have the freedom to straddle/jump categories and re-invent themselves. Take Pink for example, she started off as a pop/urban artist and morphed into a cool rock (I do love her, I must admit). Amy Winehouse was simply hailed as being an amazing singer (which she undoubtedly was), with a reportoire ranging from jazz to reggae. She was multi-faceted and respected for it.

      Emeli Sande is not a soul singer - her delivery maybe soulful - but she's not a soul singer in the tradional sense. Neither is Grace Jones, Tracy Chapman, or the fantasic Shingai Shoniwa from The Noisettes. All awesome women in my oppinion, who should be celebrated for their diversity and unique contribution to music. A 'soul singer' badge does not make you worthy.


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