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Great Soul Singers of The Twentieth Century

Updated on March 30, 2014
James Brown
James Brown

There’s nothing like great music. Music that moves you, inspires you, and sends chills up your spine. Some artists have a gift for this. Their music is more than a song on the radio, a music video, or an advertisement.

Music has always been a part of my life. Growing up, my dad was a DJ. Anytime I would play a new song, he would pull out an album and show me where the sample came from. Thus began a lifelong fascination with the originals. This has led me to some great music. With that in mind, I came up with a list of my favorite soul singers of the 20th century.

Nothing against today’s music, but my list is full of deceased artists. There is a lot of tragedy on this list. Why do they take the good ones from us? In the words of the great Sam Cooke, this is a mean old world, indeed it is Sam.

Otis Redding - Let's start with perhaps my favorite on this list. A life cut way too short due to a tragic plane crash, Otis Redding had one of the most soulful voices ever recorded. Redding is best known for Sitting by the dock of the bay, released just after his death.

Sam Cooke - With 29 top 40 hits between 1957-1964, there is little doubt Sam Cooke is one of the greats. Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1931, Cooke was soon singing in his Church as a teenager. Cooke also wrote perhaps the most important song of the 20th century, A Change Is Gonna Come.

Curtis Mayfield - Known for his smooth falsetto, Mayfield's politically charged music of the 70's is still relevant today. Starting with the Impressions in the late 50's, Mayfield went solo in the 1970s and is probably best for his Super Fly soundtrack. Mayfield was inducted into the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and died later that year.

Marvin Gaye - Obviously this list wouldn't be complete without Marvin Gaye. The Prince of Motown had several hits in the 60's, 70's and early 80's. Gaye's What's Going On? dealt with real issues such as social injustice, war and poverty, and brought Gaye a broader audience with it's cross over appeal. Gaye was shot by his father during an argument in 1984, just a day before his 45th birthday.

James Brown - The Godfather of Soul, James Brown was a tireless entertainer for decades, churning out hit after hit. With his unmistakable voice and unparalleled dancing, Brown was and still is, a huge influence on countless musicians today. Brown's music is probably the most sampled of all, he was often copied, but never duplicated. The one and only James Brown died at age 73, on Christmas Day 2006.

Al Green- Finally,someone alive! The reverand's distinct voice is immediately recognizable, A career gospel singer, Al Green had many hits in the early 1970s with his unique sound. Let's Stay Together, Tired of Being Alone, and I'm Still in Love With You to name a few. He returned to the limelight with 2007's Lay it Down, his most successful hit in 35 years.

Aretha Franklin- Let''s stick with the living, The Queen of Soul, there's not much Aretha Franklin has not done. Born in 1942, her achievments are plenty, 38 albums, 20 number one hits, and 18 Grammy's. There's a reason she was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some of her best known hits are 1967's Respect, Chain of Fools and 1971's Rock Steady.

There are plenty of other great soul singers. Bobby Womack, Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin, and Smokey Robinson are a few. I believe the 60's and 70's were the peak of soul music. Other greats would follow but I think singers today can trace their influences back to where it all started.


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    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 6 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks Blaine, I will check it out!

    • profile image

      Blaine 6 years ago

      This is a pretty nice list. I love Al Green and Marvin Gaye I'd just like to comment on Jackie Wilson. His performance of She's alright onyou tube is just awesome.

    • mathira profile image

      mathira 6 years ago from chennai

      It felt good to read about the great soul singers and for someone like me, very fascinating also.

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 6 years ago from Virginia

      Will do Steveamy, I love anything Daptone! Thanks!

      Glad you enjoyed Laura..I think I know that song, it is catchy.

      Thanks for commenting guys, I appreciate it.

    • laurathegentleman profile image

      laurathegentleman 6 years ago from Chapel Hill, NC

      I love this!

      Otis Redding - it's true love!! (Admittedly, I didn't know who he was until Kanye West put out a song that uses part of an old Otis Redding track. But I never ended up paying attention to Kanye, I googled Otis Redding and I haven't been able to stop!) Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Aretha Franklin - this Hub made my day!

    • steveamy profile image

      steveamy 6 years ago from Florida

      Check out Charles Bradley-- DapTone Records....Great Stuff

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 6 years ago from Virginia

      Yeah, especially in the 80's when radio was huge, I had the cool dad! Glad you enjoyed the lists, thanks!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      It must have been awesome that your dad was a DJ. I would have been in hog heaven. But your list is solid and I love it. It's sad that Aretha Franklin and Al Green are the only two artists still alive, but I'm glad we have all of the great music they gave us to keep their memories alive. Awesome hub, voted up!