Last semester, I dedicated my first WPIR Pratt Radio show to soul music by women. Through this endeavor, I discovered the true power that lies within soul music, a force which increases in magnitude with women artists. My first show as a WPIR host started off as a wreck—my voice was shaky and hands sweaty as I tried to decode the switchboard. I accidentally left the microphone on, so my audience (of two people) could hear my coughing and knuckle-popping, and I went the first 15 minutes of the show without realizing that there was actually no music playing on air. But I will never forget that swell of emotion I felt when “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield finally came swaggering out of the speakers, Dusty’s sultry voice running through my bloodstream; I was immediately transported to the shoes of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction walking the path up to Mia Wallace’s house.
Aretha Franklin, Marlena Shaw, and Nina Simone—something about these women’s music makes you want to stand up, slam down whatever’s in your hand, and go get what you want. Whether its revenge, love, friendship, justice, or sex, these women have their eyes set on the prize and will be damned if you try to get in their way. That’s what I love most about this subgenre: the singers are bold and shameless, unafraid to pursue their desires. Take Shelbra Bennett from The Soul Children for example— she proudly wails her woes, informing her lover that she should be his only other woman besides his wife. And in a more contemporary sense, Monica’s song “Don’t Take it Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” serves as a reminder to her man to know his boundaries, to respect her personal space and times of solitude.
Many lessons can be learned from the ballads and funk-doused songs of these women: lessons of infidelity, disrespect, lost love, denial, and, on the flip side, found love, self-respect and mutual respect, fidelity, and self-care. But ultimately what these songs tell us is that it is okay to feel; and now, more than ever, it is just as important to let the world hear it. Immense power comes with the ability to harness and express emotion in an honest way, and that’s exactly what these women achieve. As recent events such as the Me Too movement have proven, changing the station when these women’s songs are playing only makes them sing louder.
Illustration by Janie Peacock