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Soul Music

Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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Feeling Good

The surprising history behind a track made famous by Nina Simone. Feeling Good was written for a now obscure musical and originally performed by Cy Grant, the first black man to appear regularly on British TV. Cy Grant's daughter, Samantha Moxon, describes her father's extraordinary life from Prisoner of War camp to a successful career in the arts. The composer, Neil Brand, discusses why the song has gone on to transcend the almost forgotten musical it was created for. Other speakers are Sam Reynolds, who says the track helped her through challenging times, and musician, Kirsten Lamb, who sings a simplified version with young children at a homelessness project in Massachusetts. Producer: Karen Gregor

27mins

15 Jul 2020

Rank #1

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Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' took him years to write. It originally had as many as 80 verses. Recorded for his 'Various Positions' album, it was almost ignored when first released in 1984. Only Bob Dylan saw its true worth and would play it live. John Cale eventually recorded a version which was heard by an obscure musician called Jeff Buckley.The song has been covered by hundreds of artists including Rufus Wainwright, K.D.Lang and Alexandra Burke.We hear from those whose relationship with the song is deep and profound: singer Brandi Carlisle listened to it over and over again as a troubled teenager; it became a sound-track to James Talerico falling in love and Jim Kullander made a connection with the song after the death of his wife.

27mins

18 Apr 2015

Rank #2

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God Only Knows

"God only knows what I'd be without you"For artist Kim Lynch God Only Knows is a song that she has carried with her from the moment her father played it to her mother back in their 1960's London home and it's the song that resonated throughout her parents 65 years together. Meanwhile in land locked Burundi, another couple are bought together from two very different cultures. Sharing the same hopes and prayers, they began their married life by blending a traditional wedding ceremony with the Californian song that spans decades - and continents - to touch souls wherever it's played. And across the ocean, Erin Prewitt tells her love story and describes how tragic and unexpected circumstances meant she has had to learn to live out those iconic lyrics and discover what it means to be without the person you love.With reflections from musician Al Kooper and author Barry Miles. Produced By Nicola Humphries.

27mins

25 Apr 2018

Rank #3

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How Great Thou Art

An examination of the enduring popularity of the hymn, How Great Thou Art. Based on a Swedish poem by Carl Gustav Boberg, it was written by the British missionary Stuart Hine in 1949. It subsequently become an Elvis Presley classic and as the country and western star , Connie Smith explains, it's the piece she always sings to close her show, the stirring lyrics and soaring melody having the ability to move and inspire audiences of all ages and backgrounds.At the age of 101, George Beverly Shea shares his clear memories of singing it at hundreds of Billy Graham crusades.Featuring: Bud Boberg Ray BodkinBev Shea Jerry Schilling Malcolm ImhoffDavid Darg Series exploring famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal.Producer: Lucy LuntFirst broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in September 2010.

27mins

28 Sep 2010

Rank #4

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Rhapsody in Blue

"I'm convinced it's the best thing ever written and recorded in the history of things written and recorded" - Moby.Rhapsody in Blue was first heard exactly 90 years ago when it premiered on February 12, 1924, in New York's Aeolian Hall. Through its use at the opening of Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' it has become synonymous with the city that inspired its creation. But for people around the world, George Gershwin's "experiment in modern music" has become imbued with the most personal of memories.LA based screen writer Charles Peacock reflects on how this piece has become entwined with his life and how, on an evening at the Hollywood Bowl this music "healed him". When Adela Galasiu was growing up in communist Romania, Rhapsody in Blue represented "life itself, as seen through the eyes of an optimist". For world speed champion Gina Campbell, the opening of that piece will forever remind her of the roar of the Bluebird's ignition as it flew through the "glass like stillness of the water" and brings back the memories of her father, the legendary Donald Campbell - it was played at his funeral when he was finally laid to rest decades after his fatal record attempt on Coniston Lake.Featuring interviews with Professor of Music Howard Pollock and musician Moby.

27mins

1 Apr 2014

Rank #5

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What a Wonderful World

Louis Armstrong recorded the classic 'What a Wonderful World' in 1967 amidst civil rights demonstrations and protests against the Vietnam War. It was a song written for him. Was it naive or a powerful anthem for peace?Featuring: Prof Peter Ling Laurence Bergreen Simon Weston Katie Melua Troy Andrews Milan Bertosa Series exploring famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal.Producer: Sara ConkeyFirst broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in October 2008.

27mins

14 Oct 2008

Rank #6

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Wichita Lineman

Witchita Lineman is the ultimate country/pop crossover track - written by Jimmy Webb for the Country star Glen Campbell. Released in 1968, it tells the story of a lonely lineman in the American Midwest, travelling vast distances to mend power and telephone lines. It's been covered many times, but Glen’s version remains the best loved and most played.Johnny Cash also recorded an extraordinary and very raw version. Peter Lewry, a lifelong Cash fan, describes how it came about.David Crary is a lineman from Oklahoma, who recalls his reaction to the first time he heard the song. Meggean Ward's father was a lineman in Rhode Island. As a child she always felt it was written for him.Glen Campbell is also interviewed. Shortly after it was recorded, he went public about his diagnosis of Alzheimer's. His contribution is brief, but it includes an acoustic performance of the song. It was a privilege to record ‘down the line’. Series exploring famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal.Producer: Karen Gregor.First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in August 2011.

27mins

23 Aug 2011

Rank #7

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Mozart's Requiem

How Mozart's Requiem, written when he was dying, has touched and changed people's lives. Crime writer Val McDermid recalls how this music helped her after the loss of her father. Hypnotist Athanasios Komianos recounts how the piece took him to the darker side of the spirit world. And a friend of ballet dancer Edward Stierle, Lissette Salgado-Lucas, explains how Eddie turned his struggle with HIV into a ballet inspired by Mozart's music.Basement Jaxx used the Requiem in their live shows and on their album Scars - Felix Buxton reveals his love for Mozart and the divine nature of the Requiem. And Mozart expert Cliff Eisen takes us inside the composer's world: how the orchestra and choir conjure visions of funerals, beauty, hellfire and the confusion of death. He recounts how Mozart was commissioned to write the piece by a nobleman who may have intended to pass off the work as his own. The stern challenge faced by people trying to complete the piece are described by composer Michael Finnissy, who himself wrote a completion of the work.The Requiem was performed at the funerals of many heroic figures - Beethoven, Napoleon and J F Kennedy, among others. Gordana Blazinovic remembers one extraordinary performance during the horrors of the Bosnian war - a show of defiance and grief from the ruins of Sarajevo City Hall.Producer: Melvin Rickarby.

27mins

26 Apr 2016

Rank #8

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Don't Leave Me This Way

Don't Leave Me This Way was written in the early 1970s by songwriters Huff, Gamble and Gilbert who were the composers behind the famous black American Philadelphia Sound. It was first performed by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals, and later became a hit for Thelma Houston and the Communards. As the title suggests, the song is all about longing, yearning and loss. Remarkable stories in this edition of Soul Music reflect the pain expressed in this soul classic, including one told by Dr Dan Gottlieb, a quadriplegic therapist who befriended Teddy Pendergrass after he became paralysed in a car accident. Sharon Wachsler recalls dancing to the version made famous by The Communards in 1986 before a devastating illness left her housebound and reliant on her beloved service dog Gadget, who gave her a reason to keep going. When he died, the song was the only way she could express her grief over his loss. The Reverend Richard Coles, formerly of The Communards, talks about the significance of Don't Leave Me This Way as a dancefloor anthem for young gay men in the 1980s that was later to become associated with the AIDS epidemic that took so many of their lives.Producer: Maggie Ayre.

27mins

25 Jul 2013

Rank #9

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Tainted Love

Originally a Motown song written by Ed Cobb and recorded by Gloria Jones, Tainted Love became famous on the UK's Northern Soul scene in the late 1970s. It was heard by Marc Almond and Dave Ball who later became Soft Cell, and recorded a classic version. Featuring: Mark RavenhillPeter ChristophersonRay HarrisRuss WinstanleyAlan KingDave BallMike ThorneDanny McNamaraNev FountainSeries about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact.Producer: Sara Conkey First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in January 2008.

27mins

22 Jan 2008

Rank #10

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Toto's Africa

Released in 1982, this soft-rock anthem has become an unlikely viral smash-hit.Africa by Toto is a song that has changed lives, helped to raise thousands of pounds for charity and provided an unexpected musical corner-stone in a critically acclaimed play. Telling their personal stories in Soul Music:Ralf Schmidt is the Artistic Director of Ndlovu Youth Choir which is made up of young people from the poorest parts of South Africa. Incredibly, the choir made it to the final of America's Got Talent, one of the biggest entertainment shows in the world. Ralf's exuberant, irresistible and uniquely African arrangement of Toto's Africa was their stand-out performance. (Brief extract of AGT (c) Fremantle USA and Syco Entertainment)Michael Savage (aka DJ Michael Vinyl) of Prime Cuts record shop in Bristol, staged what could be considered a night of torture when he played Africa non-stop for twelve hours at a club. As Mike and Olivia Perry recall, this was to raise money for the Bristol based charity, Temwa, which operates in Malawi. They expected a handful of people to turn up, but the event had worldwide attention and was a huge success.Mike Massé's life was completely changed following his release on YouTube of what many consider to be one of the best Africa cover-versions ever recorded. The main photo is of Mike Massé (photo credit: Jim Mimna).David Greig is the Artistic Director of the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh; an esteemed playwright with intellectual clout. So, why did he include Africa in one of his plays? Well, he nearly didn't, but then he saw the light.And, Abigail Gardner, a reader in music at the University of Gloucestershire, explains why Africa - originally a US No. 1 for just a week in 1982 - has recently undergone a strange modern rebirth, making it one of the most streamed songs on the internet. Please scroll down to the 'Related Links' box to find out more about the interviewees.Producer: Karen Gregor

27mins

8 Jan 2020

Rank #11

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True Colors

"Your true colors...are beautiful, like a rainbow..."Billy Steinberg's lyrics were originally inspired by his mother but his song writing partner Tom Kelly recognised it's universal appeal and with a slight re-write, it became the song that Cyndi Lauper made famous the world over. Growing up in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ken Kidd could never truly be himself. Watching Cyndi Lauper perform True Colors on MTV showed him that it was OK to be his authentic self. Years later he describes his pride at watching the Rainbow Flag being raised above the Stonewall National Monument as he and other LGBTQ campaigners sang that same song. Lesley Pyne learnt to sing 'True Colors' with her local choir. It's a song that resonated with her more than she had ever expected. After six attempts at IVF, Lesley had had to come to terms with the knowledge that she wouldn't be able to have children. It wasn't easy. It has taken years of digging deep to work through the grief but now she helps others to find their true colours and firmly believes that they can be beautiful, like a rainbow. And in 1999, Caroline Paige, a jet and helicopter navigator in the Royal Air Force, became the first ever openly serving transgender officer in the British military. She rose above the extraordinary challenges placed before her to show her 'True Colors' whilst serving her country on the front line in the war on terror. Featuring songwriter Billy Steinberg and music from The Rock Choir Produced by Nicola Humphries.

27mins

2 May 2018

Rank #12

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You Are My Sunshine

You Are My Sunshine was written in or around 1939 and was adopted by the then Governor of Louisiana, Jimmy Davies who recorded and used it as his campaign theme song. It has since been recorded by more than four hundred artists from Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to Aretha Franklin and Bryan Ferry. A mother and daughter tell their story of how the song helped the daughter's recovery after a catastrophic car crash, and how it has come to symbolise her struggle to rebuild her life after being in a coma for several months. A resident of "Tornado Alley" and author of The Mercy of The Sky tells the story of a devastating tornado that hit a town in Oklahoma in 2013 killing several schoolchildren, but how all the toddlers in a nearby daycare centre survived. The staff comforted them by singing You Are My Sunshine as the storm destroyed the building. And pensioner Alice Kennedy fondly recalls a friend from the Irish Pensioners Choir in London who used to sing the song and add his own cheeky lyrics.Producer: Maggie AyreMusic historian: Paul Kingsbury.

27mins

7 Jun 2017

Rank #13

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A Change Is Gonna Come, by Sam Cooke

Soul Music explores a song that has become synonymous with the American Civil Rights Movement, Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come released in December 1964 two weeks after he was shot dead in Los Angeles. Contributors include Sam Cooke's brother LC, singer Bettye Lavette who sang it for Barack Obama at his inaugural ceremony and civil rights activists from the Freedom Summer of 64, Jennifer Lawson and Mary King.Producer: Maggie Ayre.

27mins

12 Oct 2016

Rank #14

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Boys Don't Cry

Boys Don't Cry by The Cure is, on the surface, a tribute to teenage angst and a slice of pop perfection. Lol Tolhurst, the band's drummer, wrote the song with his band mates in Robert Smith's parents' house extension.Poorna Bell saw the song's lyrics echo her husband's struggle with expressing his emotions, and describes the devastating impact which that can have.Runner Derek Redmond recalls the moment he lost his 'game face' at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, and Sara Pacella and Jeffrey Axt chart the changing fortunes of a giant Boys Don't Cry poster.Producer Sally Heaven.

27mins

17 Jan 2018

Rank #15

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Dvorak's New World Symphony

While for many, it will be always associated with brown bread, the Largo from Dvorak's New World Symphony is an enduring a piece that never fails to move and inspire. Anti- apartheid campaigner Albie Sachs explains that through whistling the theme while in solitary confinement, he was able to make contact with the wider world and kept his spirit and hope alive.Margaret Caldicott recalls the important role the piece played in her mother's life while in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.Series exploring famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal.Producer Lucy LuntFirst broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in June 2012.

27mins

28 Aug 2012

Rank #16

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You've Got a Friend

Series exploring famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal. Written by Carole King and made famous by James Taylor, You've Got a Friend won a Grammy Award in 1971. In this programme people tell how this song has affected their life.ContributorsCarole KingNick Barraclough Marcella Erskine Estelle Williams Karen Garner James Taylor First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2009.

27mins

22 Sep 2009

Rank #17

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Bach's St Matthew Passion

Bach's St Matthew Passion was written in 1727 and was probably first performed as part of the Good Friday Service at Thomaskirche in Leipzig. This programme explores ways in which Bach's St Mattew Passion touches and changes people's lives. Guitarist Andrew Schulman describes what happened when he was played this music whilst he was in a coma. James Jacobs talks about the St Matthew Passion providing solace in difficult times during childhood. And singer Emma Kirkby, conductor Paul Spicer and musical historian Simon Heighes explore how the music works and what it's like to perform.Producer: Rosie Boulton.First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2012.

27mins

9 Oct 2012

Rank #18

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Faure Requiem

"He wanted it to be something that's consoling and helpful. It's the end of their lives where they can rest in peace."World renowned choral conductor Sir David Willcocks, shares his personal reflections on the Faure Requiem alongside those for whom the music has comforted and inspired. Known for its peaceful and hopeful nature the Faure Requiem has been called 'The lullaby of death'. Whilst Gabriel Faure himself never spoke directly about what inspired his interpretation of the Requiem, author and biographer Jessica Duchen has speculated that it may have been born out of his experience as a soldier during the Franco-Prussian war. Featuring personal stories of conflict and deliverance shared from across the decades. Reaching from the beaches of Normandy to the plains of Afghanistan and into the skies of Salisbury.Faure composed the first version of the work, which he called "un petit Requiem" with five movements, of which the Pie Jesu and In Paradisum have become arguably the most popular."Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest."Featuring: David WillcocksJessica DuchenChristina SchmidPaul HawkinsRoss MallockSeries exploring famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal.Producer: Nicola HumphriesFirst broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in September 2010.

27mins

21 Sep 2010

Rank #19

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Bach Cello Suite No 1 in G Major

Bach's Cello Suite No I in G major is one of the most frequently performed and recognisable solo compositions ever written for cello. Yet it was virtually unknown for almost two hundred years until the Catalan cellist, Pablo Casals discovered an edition in a thrift shop in Barcelona. Casals became the first to record it and the suites are now cherished by musicians across the globe. The world renowned cellist, Steven Isserlis describes his relationship with the piece and why it still surprises and excites him. Fellow cellists Richard Jenkinson and Jane Salmon talk about the challenge of playing it and we hear from the Dominic Martens, a member of the National Youth Orchestra and his teacher, Nick Jones as they explore the piece together.Garden designer Julie Moir Messervy, describes how Yo-Yo Ma's recording inspired her to design The Toronto Music Garden and doctor Heidi Kimberly explains why she chose the piece for her wedding and why she believes the suite to have healing powers. While historian and author, Eric Siblin, reveals the extraordinary history of the suites and why some still argue that they was written by Bach's second wife Anna Magdalena.Producer Lucy Lunt.

27mins

21 Apr 2015

Rank #20