The Meaning of Soul

Black Music and Resilience since the 1960s

The Meaning of Soul

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: Published: August 2020

Author: Emily J. Lordi

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Music > Popular Music

In The Meaning of Soul, Emily J. Lordi proposes a new understanding of this famously elusive concept. In the 1960s, Lordi argues, soul came to signify a cultural belief in black resilience, which was enacted through musical practices—inventive cover versions, use of falsetto and adlibs, and deployment of false endings. It was through these soul techniques that artists such as Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, and Minnie Riperton performed virtuosic survivorship and thus helped to galvanize black communities in an era of peril and promise. These are the soul legacies and strategies that artists such as Prince, Solange Knowles, and Flying Lotus carry into the twenty-first century. Breaking with prior understandings of soul as a vague masculinist political formation that is synonymous with the Black Power Movement, Lordi offers a vision of soul that foregrounds the intricacies of musical craft, the complex personal and social meanings of the music, the dynamic movement of soul across time, and the leading role played by black women in this musical-intellectual tradition.


“Emily J. Lordi’s The Meaning of Soul will likely be the most important book I'll read this decade. Lordi reminds us that to hear Soul, one must actively listen to winding ways of Black folk. Lordi is the greatest listener this nation has created, and this book will remind us that liberation starts with Black sound.” — Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir

“Emily J. Lordi incisively and insightfully takes up the daunting task of resurrecting, dissecting, and disentangling soul's wide-ranging legacy, spillage, and overlap in black popular culture, black academia, and radical black politics. Her generation-leaping contrasts of the Soul and "post-soul" era's most spiritualized and radicalized avatars from James Brown to Beyoncé serves up poignant and often piquant musicological reveals about classic, epochal recordings of Civil Rights era and contemporary vintage. Lordi illuminates the evolutionary artistry that insures the poetics, production, and ethos of soul kulcha sustains staying power as a haunted (and hainted) arbiter of black resilience, resistance, and embattled maroon futurism. With wit, detail, and ruminative verve Lordi narrates and interrogates how the journey of the soul meme's movements within musical blackness navigates a crossroads full of split desire for both incendiary grassroots action and an infinity of intimate release.” — Greg Tate, author of Flyboy 2


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Price: $25.95

Open Access

Spring 2020 Sale
Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Emily J. Lordi is Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University and author of Donny Hathaway Live and Black Resonance: Iconic Women Singers and African American Literature.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction: Keeping On
1. From Soul to Post-soul: A Literary and Musical History
2. We Shall Overcome, Shelter, and Veil: Soul Covers
3. Rescripted Relations: Soul Ad-libs
4. Emergent Interiors: Soul Falsettos
5. Never Catch Me: False Endings from Soul to Post-soul
Conclusion. "I'm Tired of Marvin Asking Me What's Going On": Soul Legacies and the Work of Afropresentism
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0959-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0869-9