There has never been such a great influence on gospel music like the kind that Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers had. Cooke himself was quite adamant in pioneering this kind of music even as a solo artist. He even went to lengths of leaving a recording company because it would not support the kind of music that he wanted to promote. Cooke’s efforts did not go in vain as later he was “recognized as one of the true founders of soul music. ” (Last FM)
Most of the most inspired pieces by Cooke came out when he was with the group known as The Soul Stirrers who “were pioneers in the development of the quartet style of gospel and, without intending it, in the creation of soul music, the secular music that owed much to gospel. ” (Discography) The distinct feature of this group was their style of singing which later became a potent influence not only for gospel singers but also for many other emerging artists and singers who drew inspiration from the kind of music that this group created.
In the group along with Cooke, was Roy Crain, and R. H. Harris, “who brought several changes to the Soul Stirrers that affected gospel quartet singing generally” (Discography) Other members were Paul Foster, Johnnie Taylor, Jimmy Outler, Lou Rawls, Martin Jacox, Thomas Breuster, Bob King, Julius Cheeks, and later, Willie Rogers, Ben Odom, Gene Stewart, and Michael Grady Jr.
In particular, the falsetto singing of Harris which has its roots in African music was something that became an innovation in soul music. (Discography) Harris also became the first one to use what is called as the ‘swing lead’ “in which two singers would share the job of leading the song, allowing virtuoso singers to increase the emotional intensity of the song as the lead passed between them. (Discography) This particular style of singing is the primary reason for the increase in number in the membership of the group, but despite the growing number of singers in the group, they still called themselves a quartet because of the style that they used. (Discography)
Other important contributions of the group to the development of music are singing styles that included “ad-libbing lyrics, singing in delayed time, and repeating words in the background as both a rhythmic and emotional support for the lead singers. (Last FM) Eventually, the group moved on to creating more gospel and spiritual music which were less and less based on traditional gospel music and moving towards the more contemporary form of the genre. Unlike many group singers in the past, The Soul Stirrers had provided more opportunity for individual singers in the group by not being too rigid about the conventions of group singing and allowing each individual singer their own shining moments.
They have been known to be well-loved among their listeners and have been compared to other groups like the Golden Gate Quartet which was considered to be short in emotional fervor when compared to the former. Cooke, however, did not remain with the group as in 1956 he broke away to try his luck in pop music. His absence from the group resulted in the wavered enthusiasm in the group and for the group but even then, the Soul Stirrers continued touring and producing albums.
While Cooke’s leaving the group had resulted in a waning career for the other members of the group this did not change the fact that they had already contributed much to the development of their genre. The contributions of Cooke and the Soul Stirrers to the development of Gospel and Soul music have been so great that eventually, many other singers followed in their footsteps and found as much support for this musical genre. “The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000. ” (Discography)