The (re)birth of soul
22 January 2021-
This has been an interesting week for the world in general — and for soul music in particular. While Ray Charles' "Hit the road Jack" was being sung across the globe a few days ago, today marks the 90th birthday of fellow soul legend Sam Cooke...
While it would be somewhat simplistic to consider that all of the world’s vicissitudes are addressed in soul music… it would not be entirely unreasonable. Case in point: the end of the Trump era, which (finally) came this week, is surrounded by direct and indirect associations with the seminal genre, in a way no other musical style perhaps ever was — or will.
A few days ago, people started posting excerpts of Ray Charles‘ classic “Hit the road Jack” along with hashtags that usually said it all: very few couldn’t read between the lines and understand that this was a farewell to arms of sorts for the now former President Trump and a lot of what his (single) term came to be intertwined with. Police brutality and racial bias which eventually sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, nationalistic and xenophobic decisions such as the (now defunct) “Muslim ban”, an overall air of thoughtlessness in the way people in power talked and behaved during that presidency… Although the meme that showed a military band playing the song in front of 1600 Pennsylvania avenue was not real, the feeling very much was.
As it happens, Sam Cooke is also in the news this week, as we celebrate today what would have been his 90th birthday. Shot and killed back in 1964 in what was a racially charged — and still partially unclear — incident, Cooke reigns as the other soul legend whose name is being brandished in these troubled times. As we previously discussed in a post on the making of “A change will come“, he happened to be directly referenced in President Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech — as it should be. And he is also currently being portrayed in the film One night in Miami — by none other than Lesley Odom Jr., what one might call perfect casting…
Sam Cooke’s words, persona and overall role in the rise of African-American artists and personalities at the forefront of global (American) culture cannot be overstated. As a gospel singer with the Soul Stirrers back in the 1950’s, he was already sparking reactions similar to what a certain British band would later coin Beatlemania. As an activist at a time when such things were effectively life threatening, he helped promote the Civil rights agenda more than most — including posthumously. With Obama’s former Vice President Joe Biden now President himself, this very much feels like the continuation of an effort started over half a century ago by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King and reignited by President Obama — hindered during 4 years only.