Fri 11 Jun 2010
I do not remember exactly what was the day of the week that Cornel Chiriac was dedicating in the 60s and 70s to soul and R&B music in his Metronom broadcasts at the Romanian language broadcasts of Radio Free Europe – it must have been Wednesday or Thursday, one of the days in the middle of the week. With his rich musical culture that covered all musical genres from jazz to progressive and deep understanding of American music in general and jazz in particular Cornel had identified the black popular music as one of the principal trends he had to cover and worth one permanent day in his weekly broadcasts. How right he was we can see today, when soul, R&B and their more recent successor hip-hop catch constantly more than half of the top places in the American hit-parades.
The BBC documentary Soul Deep: The Story of Black Popular Music provides a highly informative review of the evolution of the black music in a period of more than half century. It starts in the period following immediately the second world war with segments dedicated to Ray Charles and to Sam Cooke, in the period of evolution of black music from gospel and sectoral entertainment to the mainstream of American popular music. It continues with the story of the big record houses of Motown and Stax, the creation of the sound of soul music, and emergence of the generation of musicians who conquered the tops in the 60s – Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Diana Ross. It goes beyond the commercial pop period which is not very much appreciated (Whitney Houston gets some maybe undeserved bashing) to the soul origins of hip-hop seen a continuation of the emotional and social involvement of soul. As the show was made in 2005 Mary J. Blidge and Beyonce get most of the attention in the last segment, but as we all know this is a story that continues in our days. I would have liked a little more focus on the musical aspects and trends, this part of the commentary was quite thin, but was compensated by first hand testimonies from critics, historians and artists such as Etta James or James Brown. More interesting was the permanent presentation of the musical aspects on the background of the historic developments in the life of the Afro-American community. It can be said that the half century covered by the series saw not only the emergence of new genres in music that conquered the world, but also a historic change in the life of the black community in the United States. The two revolutions – in music and in the social life – happened together and this is well covered in these detailed and documented series.