The Soul of Broadway celebrates the music of Broadway that speaks to your heart and pulls at your emotions with a healthy dose of the rhythm and style of soul music. Our journey takes us from Broadway classics like Porgy and Bess to modern adaptations of the lives of legendary popstars like Tina Turner. Here we sample a smorgasbord of musical genres—show tunes, pop and rap, jazz and folk. Of course, our selections are only the tip of the iceberg. If you would like to know more about our selections and their sources, we present a short guide for your information. The guide follows the order of the selections in our program.
On Broadway, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, in collaboration with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
The song was originally recorded by the Cookies—an R&B girl group—but was later revised for the Drifters. Their better-known version, with a rock-oriented groove and a more bluesy feel than the original, was a hit, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963. George Benson’s version, from his 1978 album Weekend in L.A., rose to No. 7 on The Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the soul chart. The song was featured in the musical revue, Smokey Joe’s Café (1995), and highlighted in the Carole King musical, Beautiful (2013).
It Ain’t Necessarily So, composed by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin.
The opera, Porgy and Bess, from which this song is taken, was first performed in Boston on September 30, 1935, and then moved on to Broadway. It featured a cast of classically trained African American singers—a daring artistic choice at the time. George Gershwin chose John W. Sublett (Bubbles), an American tap dancer, vaudevillian, movie actor, and television performer. to create the role of Sportin’ Life. Since Sublett was unable to read music, Gershwin taught it to him as a tap rhythm. Sublett performed the role occasionally for the next two decades.
Summertime, composed by George Gershwin, lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin.
Probably the best-known song from Porgy and Bess, “Summertime” is a popular and much recorded jazz standard. The song is sung several times throughout the opera, and its lyrics are the first words heard in Act I, where it is sung by Clara as a lullaby. The song was recorded for the first time by the original Clara, Abbey Mitchell Cook, on July 19, 1935, with George Gershwin playing the piano and conducting the orchestra.
Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper.
Redding started writing the lyrics in August 1967, while sitting in a rented houseboat in Sausalito, California. Redding recorded it twice in 1967, including once just three days before his death in a plane crash. The song was released on the Volt label in 1968, becoming the first ever posthumous single to top the charts in the U.S.
Ol’ Man River, composed by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
The most famous song from the 1927 musical Show Boat, “Ol’ Man River” is sung by Joe, a black stevedore on a showboat. The original Joe was played by Jules Bledsoe, but the most famous rendition of it was sung by Paul Robeson in the classic 1936 film version of the show.
A Million Dreams, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
This song debuted in the 2017 American film, The Greatest Showman, based on the story of P.T. Barnum, a famous showman and entertainer and creator of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. The number is performed by Ziv Zaifman, Hugh Jackman, and Michelle Williams in the original soundtrack, and has been covered by several artists.
Found/Tonight, arrangement by Alex Lacamoire
Released as a single, this mash-up of two songs from Hamilton: An American Musical (written by Lin-Manuel Miranda) —“The Story of Tonight”–and Dear Evan Hansen (written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) —“You Will Be Found”–was recorded by Miranda and Ben Platt, who originated the role of Evan Hansen, in an arrangement by Alex Lacamoire. It was released on March 19, 2018. Miranda and Blatt performed the song at the student-led demonstration, March for Our Lives, in support of gun control legislation, which took place in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2018. The proceeds from sales of this single were partially donated to the anti-gun violence movement.
Impossible Dream, composed by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion.
Probably the most popular song from the Tony-winning 1965 Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha, “Impossible Dream (or the Quest)” has attracted many vocal artists from both the pop and opera world, including Jack Jones, The Temptations, Shirley Bassey, Jose Carreras, Jacques Brel, Aretha Franklin, and Josh Groban. Composer Mitch Leigh received the Contemporary Classics Award from the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame for the song.
Dreamgirls, composed by Henry Krieger, lyrics by Tom Eyen.
This song is from the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name and is based on the show business aspirations of R&B acts, such as the Shirelles, James Brown, and Jackie Wilson, but closely mirrors the story of The Supremes. “The “Dreams,” as the trio is called in the musical, make their club debut singing “Dreamgirls,” their first single. Dreamgirls won the Tony award and the Drama Desk Award for best book of a musical.
Man in the Mirror, written by Glen Ballard and Siedah, and produced by Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.
This song was released on February 6, 1988, as the fourth single from Jackson’s seventh solo album, “Bad.” “Man in the Mirror” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks and was nominated for Record of the Year at the 31st Grammy Awards. Keeping the gospel choir arrangement, the song was remixed for the soundtrack of Jackson’s tribute tour, “Immortal.”
Make Them Hear You, composed by Steven Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.
This song is from the 1998 Broadway musical, Ragtime, based on the book of the same name by E.L. Doctorow. Set in the early 20th century, Ragtime follows three groups: African Americans, white upper-class suburbanites, and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. “Make Them Hear You,” which is sung by Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a Harlem musician, is a plea for non-violence. The Broadway production won the Tony for best book of a musical and best original score.
Listen, written by Henry Krieger, Beyoncé Knowles, and others.
“Listen” was written for the 2006 film version of Dreamgirls, in which Beyoncé’s character sings the song in an expression of independence from her controlling husband. Columbia Records released “Listen” as the lead single from the soundtrack album of the movie on January 19, 2007.
Hardcore Poetry, written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.
This song is from the second studio album of the same name by the American soul/R&B group, Tavares, released in 1974 on the Capitol label. It is a semi-sweet tribute to the rougher neighborhood of the city.
One Song Glory/Glory, arranged by Leslie Blaha
Jonathan Larson’s 1996 musical, Rent, is loosely based on Puccini’s opera La Bohéme. The story traces the ups and downs of struggling young artists living in New York in the 1980s. “One Song Glory” is sung by a singer-songwriter who has contracted AIDS and dreams of having a hit song as a legacy. Rent ran on Broadway for 12 years, winning many awards.
“Glory” is featured as the theme song in Selma, a 2014 historical film drama directed by Ava DuVernay, based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches. The film was nominated for several awards, and the song “Glory,” written by Common (Lonnie Rashid Lynn) and John Legend, won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for best original song.
We Are the World, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie.
A charity single released by the supergroup USA for Africa in 1985, “We Are the World” sold more than 20 million copies, becoming the eighth best-selling single of all time. The song is also included the album of the same name. The 20th anniversary of “We Are the World” was celebrated in 2005. Radio stations around the world paid homage to USA for Africa’s creation by simultaneously broadcasting the charity song. Harry Belafonte commented that the song had “stood the test of time,” and anyone old enough to remember it can still hum along.
Get Ready/Dancing in the Street, arranged by Roger Emerson
A Motown song written by Smokey Robinson, “Get Ready” was written for The Temptations in 1966 and was designed as an answer to the latest dance craze, “The Duck.” The song topped the U.S. R&B singles chart, as did a later version by Rare Earth released in 1970. One of Motown’s signature songs, “Dancing in the Street” was written by Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson, and Ivy Jo Hunter. The song was recorded by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas in 1964 and reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Chart. This medley was created for the smash Broadway hit Motown: The Musical.
I Heard It Through the Grapevine, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.
Written for Motown Records in 1966 and first recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” shortly became the biggest selling Motown single up to that time. The Marvin Gaye version was released as a single in 1968 and overtook the earlier version as the biggest selling single. The Gaye recording has since become an acclaimed soul classic and in 1998 was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Twenty years later, the Gladys Knight & the Pips version was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The Tracks of My Tears, written by Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore, and Marv Taplin.
A multiple award-winning R&B song, “The Tracks of My Tears” was originally recorded by The Miracles on Motown’s Tamia label in 1965 and is their most honored and most covered song. It has been ranked at, or near the top of many “best of” lists in the music industry over the last 50 years. On May 14, 2008, this version was preserved by the United States Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry as being of cultural, historical, aesthetic significance, and in 2021, Rolling Stone ranked the recording as “The Greatest Motown Song of All Time.”
One Night Only, written by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger.
Written for the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, “One Night Only” was one of the first songs to be written for the play. In the show, it is performed twice in succession—a soul ballad by the character Effie White (Jennifer Holliday) and a dance version by Deena Jones & the Dreams (Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine, and Deborah Burrell). Both versions appear as one track on the original 1982 Broadway cast album.
Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.
Released on the Motown label in 1971, “Just My Imagination” became the third Temptations song to reach number one on the US Billboard Hot 100. Today, this single is considered one the Temptations’ signature songs and is notable for recalling the sound of the group’s 1960s recordings. It is also the final single to feature founding members Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams.
Proud Mary, written by John Fogerty.
Written for the Creedence Clearwater Revival and released as a single in 1969 and on the band’s second album “Born on the Bayou, “Proud Mary” became a major hit in the United States, peaking at No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in March 1969. A cover version by Ike and Tina Turner, released in 1971, did nearly as well, reaching No. 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and winning a Grammy Award.
Ease on Down the Road, written by Charlie Smalls.
Originally from the 1975 Broadway musical, The Wiz, “Ease on Down the Road” is performed three times in the show by Dorothy and her friends–the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion–as they dance down the Yellow Brick Road. Two versions of the song were released as singles: one associated with the Broadway show by Consumer Rapport in 1975; and a second recorded by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson for the feature film adaptation of The Wiz in 1978.
Home, written by Charlie Smalls
Also from The Wiz, “Home” was performed by Stephanie Mills in the stage production and by Diana Ross in the 1978 film adaptation, which was released on the soundtrack album.
What About Love, words and music by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Steven Bray.
The Color Purple, which opened in 2005, recounts the journey of Celie, an African American woman in the American South from the early to the mid-20th century. The musical, based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker and the 1985 film adaptation, was revived in 2015, winning two Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. “What About Love” is a duet between Celie and the jazz singer Shug Avery.
Lean on Me, written by Bill Withers.
Withers, an American singer and songwriter, had several hits over a career spanning eighteen years. “Lean on Me,” written in 1972, won the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues song in 1987. Withers wrote the song, he said, after moving from his small West Virginia town to Los Angeles, when he was missing the supportive community he left behind.
All in Love Is Fair, written by Stevie Wonder.
Stevie Wonder included this song in his sixteenth studio album, Innervisions, in 1973. Barbra Streisand released “All in Love Is Fair” as a single in 1974 for her fifteenth studio album, The Way We Were. Several other artists, including Nancy Wilson and Cleo Laine, have recorded the song.
Seasons of Love, written by Jonathan Larsen.
This song, from the 1996 Broadway musical, Rent, is performed by the entire cast in the musical and in the 2005 film adaptation. The lyrics ask: what is the proper way to quantify the value of a year in human life. Since several of the characters have either HIV or AIDS, the song is often associated with World AIDS Day and AIDS awareness month.
You Can’t Stop the Beat, written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
The big closing number to the 2002 musical, Hairspray, was not in the original 1988 movie, written and directed by John Waters, which dealt with racial segregation and “sizeism.” It was added, along with other original songs to the 2002 production. The song pays tribute to “River Deep, Mountain High,” the 1966 hit by Ike and Tina Turner.