Soul music is a combination of R&B and gospel, and began in the late 1950s in the United States. Soul differentiates from R&B because of Soul's use of gospel-music devices, its greater emphasis on vocalists and its merging of religious and secular themes. Soul traces its roots to four different sources: racial, geographical, historical and economical factors. The 1950s recordings of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and James Brown are commonly considered the beginnings of soul music.
There are many different kinds of Soul music, including, but not limited to: Southern Soul, Neo-Soul (which is covered elsewhere on this site) and Psychedelic Soul (which paved the way for Funk music in the 1960s. Soul was born in Memphis and more widely in the southern U.S. where most of the performing artists were from. More than any other genre of popular American music, Soul is the result of the combination and merging of previous styles and substyles in the 1950s and 60s.
Where It Comes From:
Broadly speaking, Soul comes from a mixture of the sacred (i.e. gospel) and the profane (blues). Blues mainly praised fleshly desires, whereas gospel was more oriented toward spiritual inspiration. Soul music exploded in the 1960s and ruled the black music charts throughout the decade, and inspired many other music styles. Although Soul's popularity has waned over the years, it's impact and influence can still be heard in many musical styles, including Funk, Neo-Soul and contemporary pop.