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Soul and R&B Music Stars

by Kirk Fox

Soul and R&B singers have some of the best voices in the history of popular music—and some mind-blowing dance moves. We remember soul legends and R&B superstars from the 1960s and beyond with a video gallery featuring favorites from “Mr. Excitement” to “The Godfather of Soul.”

Bobby “Blue” Bland (1930–2013)

Bobby “Blue” Bland

Bobby Blue Bland was a blues singer who combined that music with soul, gospel, and R&B. He was described as one of the premier storytellers in blues and soul. He came out of the Beale Street scene in Memphis, Tennessee, with his good friend B.B. King. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

Read more about Bobby “Blue” Bland


James Brown (1933–2006)

James Brown was known as the Godfather of Soul and the Founding Father of Funk Music. Known for his energetic live performances and his legendary dance moves that artists such as Michael Jackson emulated, Brown had 16 songs hit No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts. He is ranked seventh on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.

Read more about James Brown

Solomon Burke (1940–2010)

Burke was called “the greatest male soul singer of all time” by well-known Atlantic Records Vice President and record producer Jerry Wexler. He was known as the King of Rock n’ Soul, and he had a string of hit songs including “Cry to Me” and “Down in the Valley.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

View Solomon Burke’s Obituary

Ray Charles (1930–2004)

Charles was a pioneer of soul music in the 1950s, marrying blues and gospel with rhythm and blues. He is often called the High Priest of Soul. Charles started to lose his sight at age 4 and was blind by the time he turned 7, apparently from glaucoma. Charles was one of the first African-American artists to enjoy crossover success in the mainstream pop charts.

Read more about Ray Charles

Natalie Cole (1950–2015)

Cole was the daughter of the legendary Nat King Cole (1919–1965). The Grammy Award-winning singer emerged on her own in the 1970s with hit songs including “This Will Be.” Cole then struggled with drug addiction but came back in the 1980s with her successful cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac.” She sold over 30 million records worldwide. 

View Natalie Cole’s obituary

Sam Cooke (1931–1964)

Known as the King of Soul, Cooke was one of the biggest influences in soul music with his naturally smooth singing style. Some people credit him with inventing soul music. He had an incredible 30 songs hit the Top 40 between 1957 and 1964. Some of his hit tunes include “You Send Me,” “Cupid,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away.” He was shot and killed at 33 by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles, California. A court later ruled the shooting a justifiable homicide, though many think the circumstances of the event were suspect.

Read more about Sam Cooke

Aretha Franklin (1942–2018) 

Aretha brings Carole King and President Obama to tears with this stirring rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” King wrote the song for Franklin and it became a huge hit.

See Aretha Franklin’s best (videos)

Marvin Gaye (1939–1984)

The “Prince of Motown” helped shape the sound of pop music in the 1960s. His Motown classics included “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” His amazing 1971 concept album, “What’s Going On,” took an honest look at the issues of the time such as the Vietnam War, social justice, and poverty. In 1982, he won a Grammy for his song “Sexual Healing.” In 1984, Gaye was shot and killed by his father after he intervened during an argument between his mother and father. He was only 44.

Read more on Marvin Gaye

Isaac Hayes (1942–2008)

Hayes was one of the creative forces behind the legendary southern soul music label Stax Records, where he was an in-house songwriter, session musician, and record producer. He co-wrote the song “Soul Man,” which became a huge hit for the duo Sam & Dave. Hayes later began his own career as a recording artist. He was well known for his music score for the movie “Shaft,” the theme song of which won an Academy Award for best original song in 1972. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Read more about Isaac Hayes

Whitney Houston (1963–2012)

Houston started out singing gospel music at a young age with her mother, Emily Houston. At 15, she sang back-up vocals for Chaka Khan on her hit song “I’m Every Woman.” Of course, she moved on to become one of the biggest R&B pop stars of all time.

Read more about Whitney Houston

James Ingram (1952–2019)

Ingram’s was the smooth voice behind the hit songs “Baby, Come to Me,” a duet with Patti Austin, along with “Just Once” and “One Hundred Ways.”

View James Ingram’s obituary

Michael Jackson (1958–2009)

Jackson was the King of Pop and one of the most popular performers of all time. He rose to fame at a young age fronting the Jackson 5 with his brothers. They combined soul music with pop to become one of Motown Record’s most popular acts. Of course, Michael went on to a huge solo career and captivated audiences with his singing and dancing.

Read more on Michael Jackson

Rick James (1948–2004) 

Rick James started out singing in R&B groups as a teenager in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. In 1977, he was signed to Gordy Records. He became known as the King of Punk Funk for his mix of funk, soul, and underground rock. He had huge hits with the songs “Give It to Me Baby” and “Super Freak.”

Rick James: 5 Fun Facts

Curtis Mayfield (1942–1999)

Mayfield grew up in the Cabrini-Green Homes housing project in Chicago. He met singer Jerry Butler and joined the vocal group the Impressions. Eventually, he became the lead singer for the group and wrote many of their hit songs including “People Get Ready,” which ranks No. 24 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs. He went on to a solo career and released the classic album “Super Fly” in 1972. He was a leader in soul music’s movement toward songs that reflected issues minorities faced such as poverty, crime, and drug abuse. Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990 when a piece of stage lighting fell on him during a concert. He continued to write and perform until his death at 57.

Read more about Curtis Mayfield

Teddy Pendergrass (1950–2010)

Pendergrass was known for his popularity with female fans. He even held a tour that was “women only.” He started out as the lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. He hit his peak in the late 1970s with songs such as “Love TKO.” In 1982, he was paralyzed after a car accident. He inspired everyone with his comeback including an emotional return to the stage in 1985 at the Live Aid concert. In 1988, he had a No. 1 R&B song, “Joy.”

Read more about Teddy Pendergrass

Wilson Pickett (1941–2006)

Pickett was a major artist in the earliest days of soul music. Over 50 of his songs made the U.S. R&B charts. His songs include the soul music classics “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally.” Pickett was known for his passionate singing, which he developed in church and on the streets of Detroit, Michigan. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Read more about Wilson Pickett

Lou Rawls (1933–2006) 

Chicago native Lou Rawls sold more than 40 million records. Frank Sinatra once said that Rawls had “the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game.” When he was young, he met and sang with Curtis Mayfield and Sam Cooke. His best-known song is “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.”

View Lou Rawls’ Obituary

Otis Redding (1941–1967)

Redding is considered one of the greatest singers in the history of pop music. Although he was a soul music star, he played a closing set at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where he won new fans including Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones. The Beatles were already fans of Redding. His best-known songs are his signature song “Try a Little Tenderness” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” That song was released after Otis and most of his band perished in a plane crash while on tour. The song was his only track to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Read more on Otis Redding

Sam & Dave: Sam Moore and Dave Prater (1937–1988)

The soul music duo Sam & Dave were Sam Moore, who provided the tenor vocals, and Dave Prater (1937–1988), who sang baritone. This most successful soul music duo in history were known as Double Dynamite. They brought gospel music to pop music with their call-and-response vocals. Their song “Soul Man” is recognized as one of the most influential songs of all time for being one of the first songs by an African-American group to top the pop charts using the word “soul,” which helped define the genre. They also had hit songs with “Hold On, I’m Comin” and “I Thank You.”

Teena Marie (1956–2010)

Teena Marie was given the name Lady Tee by her friend and collaborator Rick James. Known for her distinctive soulful vocals, she was also called the Ivory Queen of Soul. The multitalented performer wrote most of her songs and played rhythm guitar, keyboards, and congas. James also produced her debut album. She released her biggest album in 1984; “Starchild” featured her highest-charting single, “Lovergirl,” which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

View Teena Marie’s obituary

The Temptations

Eddie Kendricks (1939–1992) 

Kendricks was one of the co-founders of the popular Motown group The Temptations. Known for his falsetto voice, he was one of the group’s lead vocalists from 1960 until 1971. You can hear his voice on Temptations hits such as “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “Get Ready.” He went on to a solo career and had a hit song with “Keep On Truckin.”

David Ruffin (1941–1991)

Ruffin was a member of The Temptations during what is now called the Classic Five period. Known for his raspy baritone, Ruffin sang the lead on Temptations classics such as “My Girl” and “Aint Too Proud To Beg.” He was fired from the group because of his addiction to cocaine. After the Temptations, he had a moderately successful solo career. He died after an adverse reaction to drugs. He was 50.

Read more about David Ruffin

Tammi Terrell (1945–1970)

Terrell was a Motown star known best for her duets with Marvin Gaye. They scored seven Top-40 singles on the Billboard 100, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need To Get By.” Terrell’s singing career was cut short; she was diagnosed with a brain tumor after collapsing into Marvin Gaye’s arms during a concert in 1967. She died in 1970 at just 24.

See more Motown legends

Luther Vandross (1951–2005)

Vandross sold over 35 million records worldwide and won the Grammy for best male R&B vocal performance four times. He was known for his love songs including “Never Too Much” and “Any Love.”

Read more about Luther Vandross

Barry White (1944–2003)

White was known for his romantic image and distinctively low bass voice. He is one of the best-selling artists of all time, selling more than 100 million records. His hits include “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” which was a No. 1 song on the R&B and pop charts in 1974.

View Barry White’s obituary

Jackie Wilson (1934–1984)

Wilson was known as Mr. Excitement for his dynamic stage presence. He was one of the most influential artists in R&B and in rock ‘n’ roll history. He inspired many artists including Elvis Presley, James Brown, and Michael Jackson. Elvis was so impressed by Wilson that he asked to meet him, and the two became good friends. He had a massive heart attack while performing on stage at age 41. He ended up in a semicomatose state and died nine years later.

Read more on Jackie Wilson

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