Soul is one of those concepts that is often evoked, but rarely satisfactorily defined. In The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience Since the 1960s
(Duke University Press 2020), Emily J. Lordi takes on the challenge of explaining “soul,” through a book that zooms in and out between sweeping ideas about suffering and resilience in Black culture and fine-grained, close readings of individual performances by soul musicians. Rather than centering big musical gestures and major popular hits, Lordi pays close attention to musical practices like falsetto, ad-libs, and false endings to ground her analysis. She focuses on artists that are some of the most recognizable Black singers in the United States such as Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, and James Brown, but she also spends a lot of time with more obscure figures including Donny Hathaway and Minnie Riperton. She ends the book with a powerful contemplation of how the logic of soul, born in the political and social tumult of the late 1960s, still resonates with some of today’s most popular women singers.
Emily J. Lordi
is an Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. The Meaning of Soul
is her third book. In addition to her scholarly work, she is an active cultural critic and music journalist published in venues such as Billboard, The Atlantic,
Kristen M. Turner is a lecturer in the music and honors departments at North Carolina State University. Her research centers on race and class in American popular entertainment at the turn of the twentieth century.