Soul Music

Soul Music

United Kingdom

Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact


The Star-Spangled Banner  

America's national anthem was written by a lawyer, Francis Scott Key, after watching the British navy bombing Fort McHenry in 1814. It was set to an English social men's club song and recognized as the national anthem in 1889. Notoriously difficult to sing, and traditionally played at public sports events and orchestral concerts, the anthem has inspired emotion and attracted controversy. We hear from Dr John Carlos who along with Dr Tommie Smith, raised their fists on the Olympic podium in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 as the anthem was played; Jose Feliciano who sang the anthem at the 1968 World series and provoked criticism; Conrad Netting IV who discovered the truth about his fighter pilot father's history which led him to a cemetery in Normandy; writer Crista Cloutier who associated it with Obama's election; members of the Coldstream Guards band who played the anthem at the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace the day after 9/11 and Leon Hendrix, Jimi's brother, who was in the army at the time of Woodstock, and was put on 'potato peeling duty' because of the 'dishonourable' version his brother had played.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face  

Memories of first love, first borns and loss are stirred by The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, the timeless love song written by Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger, and made famous by Roberta Flack. The activist and folk musician Peggy Seeger tells the story of her first meeting with Ewan MacColl, which would inspire him to write the song, and talks about what the song means to her today. MacColl's biographer Ben Harker explains why this song is so different from much of Ewan's other work. Julie Young talks about singing the song to her son Reagan, who had severe complex needs following a cardiac arrest as a baby, and the writer Louise Janson speaks about what the song came to mean to her as she set out on the path to becoming a mother on her own. Writer and academic Jason King tells the story of how Roberta Flack came to cover this ballad by a Scottish folk musician, and how it catapulted her to fame. And Kandace Springs, a singer and pianist from Nashville, Tennessee, records her version of the song and talks about why the song is one of the greatest love songs of all time. Produced by Mair Bosworth.


"Jerusalem" has become a quintessentially middle-class and very English song, but it is held in the hearts and memories of people from different backgrounds and cultures. There is a bit of cricket - Aggers discusses England's stunning and unexpected victory in the 2005 Ashes. Jerusalem reminds of that extraordinary summer. We hear from Pamela Davenport, the daughter of a man who felt that the words of Jerusalem highlighted inequality in society; lack of money prevented him fulfilling his academic potential and he died in a care home that didn't care well enough for him. For the American poet, Ann Lauterbach, the unusual and little-known Paul Robeson version was the theme-tune to her escape from the difficult years of Nixon and Vietnam to 1960s London. The singer, Janet Shell, recalls the burial of her Great Uncle who was killed during World War One, but whose body was only discovered in 2009. Susanne Sklar - a scholar of William Blake - discusses the inspiration behind the words of the poem. Probably, she says, he wrote them while awaiting his trial for sedition; he was in trouble for fighting with a soldier who had urinated in his garden. The composer and writer, Paul Spicer, plays, sings and talks through the tune which was composed by Sir Hubert Parry. Producer: Karen Gregor.

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.

Feed the Birds  

'Feed The Birds' was written for the film Mary Poppins by Richard and Robert Sherman.

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.

The Way You Look Tonight  

'The Way You Look Tonight' was written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields for the 1936 film 'Swing Time'. Sung by Fred Astaire to Ginger Rodgers while she was washing her hair, the song won an Oscar. It's been recorded by Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. Sarah Woodward, daughter of actor Edward, recalls how age seven, she watched him sing it on The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show with his 'angelic' voice; theatre director Michael Bawtree remembers the song being his father's favourite, and being distraught when he broke the gramophone record as a five year old; and Glaswegian singer Eddie Toal describes making an album of jazz songs, including 'The Way You Look Tonight' to remember his late wife, Irene.

Sukiyaki (Ue o Muite Arukou)  

Memories of a prison camp in the Arizona desert, a tsunami and a plane crash are stirred by the bittersweet Japanese song Sukiyaki, a huge global hit of the 1960s. Originally released in Japan with the title 'Ue o Muite Arukou' ('I Look Up As I Walk'), the song was retitled 'Sukiyaki' (the name for a type of beef stew) for international release. It went to No 1 in the USA, Canada and Australia and placed in the top 10 of the UK singles chart. With melancholy lyrics set to a bright and unforgettable melody, it has since been covered hundreds of times in countless languages. California peach farmer Mas Masumoto tells the story of his family's internment in an Arizona relocation camp following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and explains what the song meant to him and many other Japanese-Americans in the years after WWII. Violinist and composer Diana Yukawa plays the song as a way to remember her father, who died in the same plane crash that killed Kyu Sakamoto, the original singer of 'Sukiyaki'. Michael Bourdaghs, author of 'Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon', talks about the songwriting team behind the song (Rokusuke Ei, Hachidai Nakamura and Kyu Sakamoto), and the surprising roots of the song in the Japanese protest movement of the early 1960s. Janice-Marie Johnson of A Taste of Honey talks about writing an English version of the song and how she interpreted the Japanese lyrics. Gemma Treharne-Foose speaks about her experience of travelling to Japan from her home in the Rhondda Valleys, and what the song came to mean to her. And we hear the story of how Ue o Muite Arukou became a 'prayer for hope' following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011 from musician Masami Utsunomiya. Producer: Mair Bosworth.

Bring Him Home  

Bring Him Home, from Les Miserables, is a beautiful and moving prayer-in-song that has developed meaning and identity outside the hit musical. Taking part in the programme: The celebrated tenor, Alfie Boe, has sung this many times in the West End and on Broadway; he discusses what the song means to him. Herbert Kretzmer talks about the agonising process of writing the lyrics. The Greater Manchester Police Male Voice Choir recorded a version especially for the programme; one of their members describes singing Bring Him Home at the funeral of PC Dave Phillips in November 2015. The original Cosette, from Les Miserables, Rebecca Caine now sings this song - written for a male voice - regularly as part of international recitals. And for Becky Douglas it will forever be a reminder of her daughter whose death inspired the foundation of a leprosy charity. Jeremy Summerly, Director of Music at St Peter's College, Oxford plays through the piece and describes why it moves us emotionally. Producer: Karen Gregor.

Fairytale of New York  

The tragi-comic tale of love gone sour and shattered dreams eloquently depicted in the Christmas classic Fairytale of New York is the focus of this edition of Soul Music. James Fearnley, pianist with The Pogues recounts how the song started off as a transatlantic love story between an Irish seafarer missing his girl at Christmas before becoming the bittersweet reminiscences of the Irish immigrant down on his luck in the Big Apple, attempting to win back the woman he wooed with promises of 'cars big as bars and rivers of gold'. Gaelic footballer Alisha Jordan came to New York to play football aged 17 from County Meath in Ireland. Despite being dazzled by the glamour and pace of New York City, she missed her family and friends and stencilled the words 'Fairytale of New York' on her apartment wall as an affirmation of her determination to make the most of her new life in the city. When she was later attacked on the street by a stranger, the words came to signify her battle to recover and not to let the horrific facial injuries she suffered defeat her or her ambition to captain her football team. Rachel Burdett posted the video of the song onto her friend Michelle's social media page to let her know she was thinking of her and praying for her safe return when Michelle went missing suddenly one December. Stories of redemption and of a recognition that Christmas is often not the fairytale we are sold, told through a seasonal favourite. Producer: Maggie Ayre.


Edward Elgar's incomparable Nimrod, and the part it plays in people's lives, is explored this week: Composed as part of the Enigma Variations in the latter part of the 19th century, Nimrod was inspired by Elgar's friend and music editor, Augustus Jaeger. In an interview for this programme, Jaeger's granddaughter, Gillian Scully, talks about her grandfather and describes hearing her own granddaughter playing Nimrod at a school concert. It wasn't what Elgar intended, but Nimrod is now - and, probably, forever - associated with Remembrance. The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch - National Chaplain to the Royal British Legion - talks about hearing it played at the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall stirring memories of his own father who died in WW2, and serving as a reminder of all those lost or injured in war. Margaret Evison's son, Lieutenant Mark Evison of the Welsh Guards, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. Nimrod played an important part in his funeral which was held at The Guard's Chapel in London. For Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive of the charity Turning Point, Nimrod is a piece that reminds him of his father and the struggles he had as a Nigerian immigrant to the UK. Composer and conductor, Paul Spicer, plays through Nimrod at the piano exploring why it is a piece that stirs such deep emotions. Producer: Karen Gregor.

Mack the Knife  

The Brecht/Weill song, 'Mack The Knife' first appeared in 'The Threepenny Opera' in Berlin in 1928. Sung about the criminal MacHeath, the 'play with music' is based on John Gay's 'The Beggar's Opera', who was inspired by the real-life English highwayman, Jack Sheppard. The song became a hit when performed in 1959 by Bobby Darin. Ella Fitzgerald famously forgot the words when performing live in Berlin in 1960 and her improvised version won a Grammy. Suzi Quatro talks about how she performed it with her father as a child, playing bongos to accompany him, and Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith Group recalls how he and Patti did a version of 'Mack The Knife' at their first ever performance together at St Marks Church in New York on 10th February 1971, as it was Brecht's birthday. Film-maker Malcolm Clark tells the story of the song's first public performer, Kurt Gerron, an actor and director, who took the song into the darkest places of the Third Reich.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika  

Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica (Lord Bless Africa) is a song that runs through the very soul of South African life. It was originally composed in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Xhosa clergyman at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg who is said to have been inspired by the melody of John Parry's 'Aberystwyth', a hymn that would've been shared by Welsh missionaries at that time. It went on to travel the African continent but most significantly it became one of the defining symbols of a united South Africa; A country that still holds this song at it's heart. Having travelled through the country's Christian congregations it soon rang out from meetings and protest rallies throughout the apartheid era eventually becoming the unofficial anthem of the ANC (African National Congress Party). At a time of great hardship and pain, it was a song that offered hope and encouragement to millions of South Africans. Having being sentenced to life imprisonment, Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica was the song that Nelson Mandela will have heard being sung out by his supporters as he and his fellow ANC members were driven away to Robben Island. Decades later it was the hymn that he would use to unify his country as it was adapted into the South African National Anthem. Featuring interviews with: Albert Mazibuko of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lord Joel Joffe, author Sindiwe Magona, Edward Griffiths - former CEO of South African Rugby during the 1995 World Cup, music journalist Robin Denslow and the Za Foundation's Zakhele Choir. **We're sorry that due to copyright restrictions, if you are listening abroad, you will not be able to listen to this programme.** Produced in Bristol by Nicola Humphries.

Mr Blue Sky  

ELO's brilliantly off-beam classic, Mr Blue Sky, is explored in this week's Soul Music. It was released as a single in 1978, having first appeared on the ELO album 'Out of the Blue' in 1977. Written by Jeff Lynne, it was a no.6 hit in the UK, and has endured on the radio airwaves ever since. Contributing to the programme: Tracey Collinson whose husband, Nigel, loved the track tells of the meaning it has for her. Musicologist, Allan Moore, discusses the anomolous use of the word 'blue': usually associated with downbeat emotions, this is a peculiar subversion of that cultural norm with the word 'blue' conjuring happiness and good weather. Tremayne Crossley and his friend, Jo Milne, tell the extraordinary story of how Jo heard music for the first time. This track played an important role in that event. For Dr. Sam Illingworth, Mr Blue Sky will always take him back to the low-flying research-flights he made over the wetlands, greenlands and seas of the Arctic Circle with the shadow of the BAE146 plane beneath him and clear blue skies above. The children of King's St. Albans in Worcester sang the track that features at the end of the programme. Producer: Karen Gregor.

The Lord Is My Shepherd  

This much-loved hymn based on Psalm 23 has been set to music many times, including Brother James' Air and Crimond. The Queen requested the Crimond version at her wedding. Harriet Bowes Lyon's tells the story that her mother, Lady Margaret Colville, ( formerly Lady Margaret Egerton) taught the descant to the Queen and Princess Margaret, and was summoned to sing it when, two days before the wedding, the descant music could not be found. Howard Goodall, who wrote a new setting for 'The Vicar of Dibley' describes how he composed it in a taxi. Selina Scott says that the Crimond always puts her in mind of her Scottish grandmother.

Scarborough Fair  

"Tomorrow we're going in search of a song and in search of a dream of England which has travelled right around the world" - Will Parsons No one can be sure of the true origins of the song Scarborough Fair. It's a melody of mystery, of voices of old, of ancient days. It's travelled through land and time, drawing singers and listeners in where ever they maybe. For Will Parsons and Guy Hayward it's a song that has inspired a pilgrimage through a landscape that is embodied in the lyrics. Setting off from Whitby Abbey, they journey to Scarborough on foot, sensing the song as they go, learning to sing it, interpreting it in a new way just as thousands of traditional singers have done throughout time. This too is the landscape of Martin Carthy, the 'father of folk' who has made his home along the Yorkshire coast. It was from this legendary singer that Paul Simon first learnt Scarborough Fair, creating a version that came to represent a generation continuing its journey far and wide, weaving its spell in many different guises, never truly being pinned down. Decades on Harpist Claire Jones recorded a version of her own. Arranged by her husband, the composer Chris Marshall, hers is a very personal journey through unexpected illness to recovery. Whilst for Mike Masheder it is a song that brings memories of his wife Sally, who approached the journey of life with love and equanimity. "It can change or stay the same. And the more it changes, the more it stays the same" - Martin Carthy Produced by Nicola Humphries With expert contribution from Sandra Kerr, musician and lecturer at Newcastle University School of Arts and Culture.

First Cut Is the Deepest  

Long before it was a worldwide hit for Rod Stewart, the Cat Stevens song 'First Cut is the Deepest' made a name for the former Ike and Tina Turner backing singer, PP Arnold. In an interview for Soul Music she describes the emotional connection she felt to the lyrics, having emerged from an abusive marriage shortly before recording it. Also contributing to the programme is the song's original producer, Mike Hurst. He describes how he achieved the huge 'wall of sound' production using double drums, a huge string section, and a harp instead of a guitar to play the signature riff at the the start of the track. There are many personal stories associated with the track: Carsten Knauff recalls a childhood sweetheart - his first true love - and explains why the Cat Stevens' version brings back bitter-sweet memories for him. Rosemarie Purdy saw PP Arnold give an extraordinary live rendition at a club in Portsmouth in 1967. Never before had she seen such a heartfelt, emotionally charged performance. It's something she's never forgotten. The Sheryl Crow version reminds Rachel Batson of a very difficult phase in her life; it's a song she says reflects her own faith journey. And former Radio Caroline DJ, Keith Hampshire, describes the circumstances that led to him having a No.1 hit with the song in Canada. It was the first time 'First Cut' reached No.1 anywhere in the world. Producer: Karen Gregor.

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.


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.

La Boheme  

"La Boheme is a work of genius, for me it's the perfect opera. There's not a bar or a word or anything you'd want to alter. It just gets to you" - Opera Director John Copley CBE. For the final programme in this series of Soul Music, we venture back into the Parisian winter of Puccini's beloved 'La Boheme' where legendary Opera Director John Copley CBE reflects on his 40 years of bringing this tale of friendship, love and loss to the stage of the Royal Opera House. Alongside his memories of sharing pasta with a young Pavarotti we hear the stories from those whose lives have been touched by - and often reflect - the essence of this most popular of operas. From the romantic gesture of a probationary constable serenading his soon to be bus conductress wife in 1950's Torquay to the moment that a devoted husband passed away - La Boheme has touched the lives of opera lovers around the world. Featuring interviews with author Mavis Cheek and opera devotees Ray Tabb and Nancy Rossi. Produced by Nicola Humphries.

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