History Of Chicago Soul


Chicago soul is a style of soul music that arose during the 1960s in Chicago. Along with Motown in Detroit and hard-edged, gritty performers in Memphis, Chicago soul helped spur the album-oriented soul revolution of the early 1970s.

Stylistic Origins : Gospel music and Soul music

ImageThe sound of Chicago soul, unlike southern soul with its rich influence black gospel music, also exhibited an unmistakable gospel sound, but somewhat lighter and delicate in its approach. Chicago vocal groups tended to feature laid-back sweet harmonies, while solo artists exhibited a highly melodic and somewhat pop approach to their songs. Accompaniment usually featured high orchestrated arrangements, with horns and strings, by such notable arrangers as Johnny Pate (who largely worked with horns) and Riley Hampton (who specialized in strings).

ImageThis kind of soul music is sometimes called “soft soul,” to distinguish it from more harsh and gospelly “hard soul” style. A variety of labels in the city during the 1960s and 1970s contributed to the Chicago soul sound, most notably Vee-Jay, Chess Records, OKeh, ABC-Paramount, One-derful, Brunswick, and Curtom.Vee-Jay was Chicago’s pioneer soul label, when in 1958 it produced the first recognized soul hit in Chicago with Jerry Butler and the Impressions’ “For Your Precious Love.” The company, before it went bankrupt in 1966, produced under A&R director Calvin Carter, many notable soul acts in the Chicago soft soul ideom, notably Jerry Butler (best known for “He Will Break Your Heart”), Betty Everett “(“It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)”), Dee Clark (“Rain Drops”), and Gene Chandler (“Duke of Earl”).Chess, under A&R director and producer Roquel “Billy” Davis, featured such Chicago soul style acts as the vocal harmony groups the Dells (“Stay In My Corner”) and the Radiants “Voice Your Choice”), female singers Jan Bradley (“Mama Didn’t Lie”), Fontella Bass (“Rescue Me”), and Jackie Ross (“Selfish One”), and male vocalists such as Billy Stewart (“I Do Love You”). Chess’s biggest artist, Etta James, performed both in the soft style (“At Last”) and the hard style (“Tell Mama”).OKeh was a subsidiary of Columbia Records, but it produced a great number of hits on Chicago artists produced by A&R director Carl Davis in the company’s Chicago office. Most of the songs on OKeh artists came from the prolific pen of Curtis Mayfield, and OKeh recordings best typified the distinctive sound of Chicago soul. Best known Chicago artists on OKeh were Major Lance (“The Monkey Time”), Walter Jackson “It’s All Over”), Billy Butler (“Right Track”), and the Artistics (“Get My Hands on Some Lovin’”).ABC-Paramount was based in New York, but it recorded a number of Chicago soul acts, most notably the Impressions, led by guitarist and extraordinary songwriter Curtis Mayfield. The Impressions were best known for such hits as “Gypsy Woman” and “People Get Ready.” Another Chicago soul act that recorded for ABC-Paramount was the Marvelows (“I Do”).The One-derful label complex (One-derful, M-Pac, Mar-V-lus, Midas) represented mostly the harder gospelly style of Chicago soul music. Its most notable artists were Otis Clay (“That’s How It Is”), Harold Burrage (“Got to Find A Way”), McKinley Mitchell (“The Town I Live In”), and Five Dutones (‘Shake a Tail Feather”). The company had also huge dance hits with Alvin Cash and the Crawlers (“Twine Time”).Brunswick was a New York-Imagebased label, but under the aegis of producer and A&R man Carl Davis in Chicago the company produced a large body of Chicago style soul, beginning in 1966, when the great R&B singer Jackie Wilson started recording in Chicago. Wilson’s biggest his with Davis was “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher).” Other Brunswick artists included the Chi-lites (“Oh Girl”), Artistics (“I’m Gonna Miss (You)Her”), Barbara Acklin (“Love Makes A Woman”), Tyrone Davis (“Turn Back the Hands of Time”), and Gene Chandler (“The Girl Don’t Care”).Curtom was owned by Curtis Mayfield and the label began recording Chicago soul talent in 1968. The label better represents the post-soul era in Chicago black music, as it specialized in funk and disco recordings, and became a notable producer of soundtracks for black films. Curtis Mayfield became a solo artist while at Curtom, and his Superfly (1972) soundtrack, with its funk style represents the label’s biggest seller. Other Curtom artists were disco singer Linda Clifford (“Runaway Love”) and the Staple Singers (“Let’s Do It Again”).In 1980, Curtis Mayfield closed the Curtom office and moved to Atlanta, and not long afterwards the Brunswick closed its Chicago office as well. With these shuttings, and with disco and funk replacing traditional soul in popular appeal, Chicago soul music had effectively come to an end. 



Bibliography Pruter, Robert (1991). Chicago Soul. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.