Willie Hightower – Southern Soul 

Nowadays it’s great to see that some people are realizing how important it is to preserve what the past generations have given us music-wise, and how these historic artists have paved the way for the continuing evolution of our contemporary music scene. There are examples of it everywhere; whether it’s the latest lounge, chill-out or re-mixed release or a cultural documentary of a specific time and place. One thing still holds true: history is always repeating itself in some way. People borrow from the past and re-work it to fit in the present, sometimes in a good way and other times well, we try to forgive. In addition, it’s great to see that the music industry is also looking back, exploring their archives and coming out with some beautiful releases that offer future generations an insight into our own uniquely American musical heritage.

Although he’s often cited as soul music’s “forgotten” man, Hightower’s recordings are still considered high on the list of the greatest soul records ever made. His music defines the intriguing sound of vintage Southern Soul. So, who is Willie Hightower? Well, he started singing at the age of six in his church choir and, as of today, the Alabama native is still singing his soulful ballads to anyone who will take the time to listen. In 1958, Hightower started his professional singing career by traveling the gospel circuit and experiencing firsthand the ever-changing cultural tide of the sixties and the civil rights period. His albums are a wonderful time capsule of songs from an era that was in constant flux yet filled with hope and artistic inspiration. Check out this video showing Willie Hightower recording with the Fame Studios.

His music was the perfect companion to that era’s radical cultural and political revolution: from songs of symbolic protest (his rendition of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer” to the reflective, somber sounds of “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” to the determined “Time Has Brought About A Change,” which some critics claim is the sequel to Sam Cooke’s signature civil rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

In fact, he sounds uncannily like Sam Cooke – with a very similar tone and timbre in his voice – and his music does seem to reflect Cooke’s spirit and soul. However, I think Willie’s voice tends to have a more bluesy raspy sound – kind of like a guy who’s been through the ringer, a survivor who has braved and conquered all the hardships that have crossed his path.

All I can say is that if you’re a fan of early soul on the order of Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Al Green and Marvin Gaye, then this is an absolute must-have artist for your collection! Even though Willie Hightower isn’t as well-known as those other legendary artists, he can easily fit right in alongside any or all of them and feel right at home. His music is true Southern Soul. 

Michelle S.