The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience Since the 1960s

Emily J. Lordi (Author)


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, falsetto vocals, ad-libs, and false endings. Through these soul techniques, 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. Their soul legacies were later reanimated by such stars as Prince, Solange Knowles, and Flying Lotus. Breaking with prior understandings of soul as a vague masculinist political formation tethered to 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.

Product Details

Duke University Press
Publish Date
August 14, 2020
6.0 X 8.9 X 0.5 inches | 0.65 pounds

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About the Author

Emily J. Lordi is Associate Professor of English at Vanderbilt University and the author of Black Resonance and Donny Hathaway Live.


"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
"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
"An exquisite work of sound scholarship, The Meaning of Soul offers a new narrative of soul music that compels us to rethink what we have missed about the genre and the political moment it inhabited. It at last articulates a usable, inclusive definition of soul, filling a critical gap in our understanding of black music and sociopolitical experiences in the United States and across the diaspora."--Zandria F. Robinson
"Lordi's distinct takes on the genre are refreshing, built on close listening to artists like Riperton and Donny Hathaway and explorations of albums that reside outside the soul canon."--Zandria F. Robinson "Kirkus Reviews" (4/21/2020 12:00:00 AM)