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Before this started happening, soul music was recorded mostly by small, independent companies and shipped straight to the South's black belt and the North's big-city ghettos. Now the upsurge of nationwide soul-oriented firms is so strong that it has jostled the balance of power in the pop record industry. Manhattan-based Atlantic, with such singers as Aretha, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave, can now sell more records in a week (1,300,000) than it did in six months in 1950; now it ranks with the top singles producers in the business. Detroit's Motown Records, formed eight years ago by Berry Gordy Jr. with a $700 loan, last year grossed a soulful $30 million. Gordy's slick, carefully controlled "Motown sound" (noted for its rhythmic accent on all four beats of the bar instead of the usual R & B emphasis on alternating beats) has launched, among others, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, and Martha and the Vandellas.
Badge of Identity. By all the commercial yardsticks used in the trade, soul has arrived—and it has arrived in the hit parade as well as the "race market," in the suburbs as well as the ghettos, in the Midwestern campuses as well as Harlem's Apollo Theater.
By yardsticks used outside the trade, soul's arrival is even more significant. Since its tortuous evolution is so intertwined with Negro history and so expressive of Negro culture, Negroes naturally tend to value it as a sort of badge of black identity. "The abiding moods expressed in our most vital popular art form are not simply a matter of entertainment," says Negro Novelist Ralph Ellison. "They also tell us who and where we are."
Militant young Negroes put a more defiant slant on it. Explains Charles Keil, a white ethnomusicologist and the author of Urban Blues: "For a Negro to say 'B. B. King is my main man' is to say 'I take pride in who I am.' With this self-acceptance, a measure of unity is gained, and a demand is made upon white America: 'Accept us on our own terms.' " Yet when soul solidarity is founded on a fellowship of suffering, it may involve not a demand for white acceptance but an outright exclusion of whites, as Godfrey Cambridge makes clear. "Soul is getting kicked in the ass until you don't know what it's for," he says. "It's being broke and down and out, and people telling you you're no good. It's the language of the subculture; but you can't learn it, because no one can give you black lessons."
Used in this way, the soul concept becomes a mystique, a glorification of Negritude in all its manifestations. The soul brother makes a point of emphasizing Negro inflections such as "yo" for "your," of abandoning slang words and phrases as soon as they reach universal currency, of eating foods such as chitlins, pig's feet and black-eyed peas, in mastering a loose, cocky way of walking down the street—in doing all the things that are closed off or alien to Whitey.