Country Soul

Making Music and Making Race in the American South

By Charles L. Hughes

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 24 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3342-8
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2244-6
    Published: March 2015
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4736-2
    Published: March 2015

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

Certificate of Merit, Best Historical Research in Recorded Blues, Gospel, Soul, or R&B, Association for Recorded Sound Collections

One of Rolling Stone's 10 Best Music Books of 2015

A Slate Book Review Overlooked Book of 2015

A No Depression Reading Room Best of 2015

In the sound of the 1960s and 1970s, nothing symbolized the rift between black and white America better than the seemingly divided genres of country and soul. Yet the music emerged from the same songwriters, musicians, and producers in the recording studios of Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama--what Charles L. Hughes calls the "country-soul triangle." In legendary studios like Stax and FAME, integrated groups of musicians like Booker T. and the MGs and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section produced music that both challenged and reconfirmed racial divisions in the United States. Working with artists from Aretha Franklin to Willie Nelson, these musicians became crucial contributors to the era's popular music and internationally recognized symbols of American racial politics in the turbulent years of civil rights protests, Black Power, and white backlash.

Hughes offers a provocative reinterpretation of this key moment in American popular music and challenges the conventional wisdom about the racial politics of southern studios and the music that emerged from them. Drawing on interviews and rarely used archives, Hughes brings to life the daily world of session musicians, producers, and songwriters at the heart of the country and soul scenes. In doing so, he shows how the country-soul triangle gave birth to new ways of thinking about music, race, labor, and the South in this pivotal period.

About the Author

Charles L. Hughes is director of the Memphis Center at Rhodes College.
For more information about Charles L. Hughes, visit the Author Page.


“A deep, fresh examination of various power relations involved in the making of soul music, country music, and the sonic space between them.”--The Wall Street Journal

“An essential piece of Southern musical history.”--Kirkus Reviews

"A powerful work."--Library Journal

“An eye-opening corrective to notions of racial harmony in the recording studio or on the bandstand.” --Memphis Flyer

“With its courageous, thoroughly researched, and deeply considered take on the racial politics of the southern music industry in a pivotal period for not just the music but the South and the nation at large, Country Soul claims its own essential place in the telling of that messy history.”--Paste

"A fascinating read on many levels."--Stillwater News Press

Multimedia & Links

Follow the author on Twitter @CharlesLHughes2.

Read: Hughes remembers soul legend Ben E. King in a blog post at New Black Man. Read "A Cornerstone of American Soul: Remembering Ben E. King". (5/4/2015)