Sweet Soul Music
When Martin Luther King, standing on a platform, addressing
an off-stage white society, says, “You don't have to love me to
quit lynching me,” he is disinfecting his doctrine of agape from
sentimentality—from the notion of easy solutions by easy love.
—Robert Penn Warren,
“Who Speaks for the Negro?” (1965)
To the white protagonists of this book … Ray Charles was a
god for almost the very reasons the White Citizens Councils had
warned about: sex, barbarism, and jungle rhythms.
—Peter Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music (1986)
As TRENT LOTT STRUGGLED to “repudiate” segregation 50 years after it was outlawed, about the only point he left out of his incoherent counterattack is that he was a soul-music fan. Now, I don't know that he was, but as a southern frat boy, he would have been ironically typical of the initial audiences for Stax Records, the Memphis-based label whose music, along with Motown's, helped transport cultural integration to a broader plain. Good ol' boys who wouldn't eat with “the colored” steadfastly booked fledgling southern soul acts year after year, providing steady income and a tour circuit before singers like Carla Thomas and Otis Redding found their ways into America's mainstream.
For so they did, in that era of hope and recovery, of reopening possibilities after the McCarthyite witchhunts and hysteria had narrowed America's options. By 1965, the year after the first landmark Civil Rights Act, when optimism seemed to permeate the economy, the culture, the scent of the air—when the false dawns and cataclysms forming on the distant horizon, presaging the long twilight of Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, were still fistsized bad dreams—Motown, a black-owned independent record label rocketing from outsider to insider status, was already a top-of-the-pops (read white crossover) hitmaking factory. In the mid-1960s, it suddenly