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Retro soul, sometimes written as retro-soul, is a post-modern and contemporary popular music genre that emerged years after the golden era of soul music. In style of singing, arrangement and recording techniques, this music attempts to offer new music in the tradition of soul music from the United States from the 1950s to the 1970s. This differs from soul music, Contemporary R&B and neo soul as it is intentionally produced in a vintage recording sound and style years after the original era.[1]


Retro Soul started in the late 1990s in New York City, with the vintage focused recordings from Desco (now Daptone Records). Hip hop producers craved sampling material, and the small label presented vinyl recordings emulating the style of 1960s and 1970s soul and music. This music was initially released to represent that the music may be rare or lost recordings that were somehow unearthed, although they were technically brand new recordings. The popularity grew, finding the music being played frequently on US college radio. In addition, some of these recordings were used as material for sampling in hip hop and electronic recordings.[2]


This music was brought to mainstream popularity in the second album material of artist Amy Winehouse in 2006. Her Grammy Award-winning Back to Black record production included vintage soul style, and featuring the rhythm section and horn players from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. Subsequent releases by artists Sharon Jones,[3] Mayer Hawthorne, Adrian Younge, Raphael Saadiq, Lee Fields, Shoshana Bean and Charles Bradley continued in this tradition.[4]


The musical style is recognized by both the arrangements and instrumentation from classic soul music of the 1950s until the 1970s. It is largely non-electronic. The instrumentation includes drum kit, electric bass, percussion, electric piano, electric guitar, Hammond organ, piano, saxophone, trumpet and trombone. The music is both instrumental and with vocals. The repertoire includes ballads, mid tempos and uptempos. The rhythms can include Motown, funk, and Sentimental ballad.[5]

Record labels[edit]

Desco Records (Brooklyn, 1996–2000)

  • Founded by Phillip Lehman and Bosco Mann, the label was an early home to New York's artists. Lehman and Mann split ways to pursue different sounds in 2000.

Daptone Records (Brooklyn, 2004–present)

Truth & Soul Records (Brooklyn, 2004–2016)

  • Following Desco, Lehman would run the short-lived label Soul Fire (1999–2003) before handing the studio over to Soul Fire musicians and producers Leon Michels and Jeff Silverman. Truth & Soul is best known for their Lee Fields & The Expressions releases and relationship with Daptone artists.

Colemine Records (Ohio, 2007–present)

Stones Throw Records (Los Angeles, 1996–present)

Now-Again Records (Los Angeles, 2002–present)


  1. ^ "Retro-Soul Music Artists". AllMusic.
  2. ^ "What Is (Retro) Soul?". Idolator. July 19, 2007.
  3. ^ "Sharon Jones of retro-soul band the Dap-Kings dies at 60". BBC News. November 19, 2016. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  4. ^ Hockley-Smith, Sam (September 25, 2017). "Charles Bradley: A Master of Raw Soul". Retrieved March 7, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ Powers, Ann (October 14, 2011). "How To Keep It Real When Making New Soul". NPR.
  6. ^ "ARTISTS". Colemine Records. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  7. ^ Williams, Caleb (July 11, 2014). "High school teacher and record label founder Terry Cole is traveling the country delivering 45s". Westword. Retrieved March 9, 2021.