Cultural Origins.... First quarter of 20th century: United States
Stylistic Origins.... Christian Hymns - Negro Spirituals
Sub-Genres & International Influence..... Funk, Traditional Funk, Disco, Classic Afrobeat, Southern Soul, Freestyle, Post-Disco, Quiet Storm, Urban Contemporary, Chicago Soul, Soul, Soul Blues, New Jack Swing, New Orleans Blues, Post-Disco Soul, Deep Southern Soul, Memphis Soul, Brill Building Pop, P Funk, G Funk, Deep Funk, Deep Funk House, Classic Funk Rock, Jazz Blues, Motown, Swamp Pop, Jazz Funk, Modern Blues, Geek Rock, Northern Soul, Funk Rock, Funk Metal, Funky Tech House, Liquid Funk, Drumfunk, Funky Breaks, World, Rio De La Plata, Liedermacher, Villancicos, South African Jazz, Forro, Mande Pop, Funk Carioca, Cumbia Funk, Deep Funk Carioca, Baile Funk, UK Funky
Hall of Fames.... Southern Gospel Museum & Hall of Fame Pigeon Forge, TN. - Gospel Music Association (GMA) Nashville, TN.
Gospel music is a music genre in Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Gospel music usually has dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) with Christian lyrics. Gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century, with roots in the black oral tradition. Hymns and sacred songs were repeated in a call and response fashion. Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. Most of the singing was done a cappella. The first published use of the term ″Gospel Song" probably appeared in 1874. The original gospel songs were written and composed by authors such as George F. Root, Philip Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby. Gospel music publishing houses emerged. The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music. Following World War II, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate.
Gospel blues is a blues-based form of gospel music (a combination of blues guitar and evangelistic lyrics). Southern gospel used all male, tenor-lead-baritone-bass quartet make-up. Progressive Southern gospel is an American music genre that has grown out of Southern gospel over the past couple of decades. Christian country music, sometimes referred to as country gospel music, is a sub-genre of gospel music with a country flair. It peaked in popularity in the middle 1990s.
Bluegrass gospel music is rooted in American mountain music. Celtic gospel music infuses gospel music with a Celtic flair, and is quite popular in countries such as Ireland. British black gospel refers to Gospel music of the African diaspora, which has been produced in the UK. Some proponents of "standard" hymns generally dislike gospel music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, with historical distance, there is a greater acceptance of such gospel songs into official denominational hymnals.
Gospel music in general is characterized by dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) referencing lyrics of a Christian nature. Sub-genres include contemporary gospel, urban contemporary gospel (sometimes referred to as "black gospel"), Southern gospel, and modern gospel music (now more commonly known as praise and worship music or contemporary Christian music). Several forms of gospel music utilize choirs, use piano or Hammond organ, tambourines, drums, bass guitar and, increasingly, electric guitar. In comparison with hymns, which are generally of a statelier measure, the gospel song is expected to have a refrain and often a more syncopated rhythm.
Several attempts have been made to describe the style of late 19th and early 20th century gospel songs in general. Christ-Janer said "the music was tuneful and easy to grasp ... rudimentary harmonies ... use of the chorus ... varied metric schemes ... motor rhythms were characteristic ... The device of letting the lower parts echo rhythmically a motive announced by the sopranos became a mannerism".
Patrick and Sydnor emphasize the notion that gospel music is "sentimental", quoting Sankey as saying, "Before I sing I must feel", and they call attention to the comparison of the original version of Rowley’s "I Will Sing the Wondrous Story" with Sankey's version. Gold said, "Essentially the gospel songs are songs of testimony, persuasion, religious exhortation, or warning. Usually the chorus or refrain technique is found."
Coming out of the African American religious experience, gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century. Gospel music has roots in the black oral tradition, and typically utilizes a great deal of repetition. The repetition of the words allowed those who could not read the opportunity to participate in worship. During this time, hymns and sacred songs were lined and repeated in a call and response fashion, and the Negro spirituals and work songs emerged. Repetition and "call and response" are accepted elements in African music, designed to achieve an altered state of consciousness we sometimes refer to as "trance", and strengthen communal bonds.
Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. There would be guitars and tambourines available every now and then, but not frequently. Church choirs became a norm only after emancipation. Most of the singing was done a cappella.
The first published use of the term ″Gospel Song" probably appeared in 1874 when Philip Bliss released a songbook entitled Gospel Songs. A Choice Collection of Hymns and Tunes. It was used to describe a new style of church music, songs that were easy to grasp and more easily singable than the traditional church hymns, which came out of the mass revival movement starting with Dwight L. Moody, whose musician was Ira D. Sankey, as well as the Holiness-Pentecostal movement. Prior to the meeting of Moody and Sankey in 1870, there was an American rural/frontier history of revival and camp meeting songs, but the gospel hymn was of a different character, and it served the needs of mass revivals in the great cities.
The revival movement employed popular singers and song leaders, the most famous of them being Ira D. Sankey. The original gospel songs were written and composed by authors such as George F. Root, Philip Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby. As an extension to his initial publication Gospel Songs, Philip Bliss, in collaboration with Ira D. Sankey issued no’s. 1 to 6 of Gospel Hymns in 1875. Sankey and Bliss’s collection can be found in many libraries today.
The popularity of revival singers and the openness of rural churches to this type of music (in spite of its initial use in city revivals) led to the late 19th and early 20th century establishment of gospel music publishing houses such as those of Homer Rodeheaver, E. O. Excell, Charlie Tillman, and Charles Tindley. These publishers were in the market for large quantities of new music, providing an outlet for the creative work of many songwriters and composers.
Exemplification of gospel music: an open Bible and a CD, which represent the gospel in written and musical forms The holiness-Pentecostal movement, or sanctified movement, appealed to people who were not attuned to the Europeanized version of black church music. Holiness worship has used any type of instrumentation that congregation members might bring in, from tambourines to electric guitars. Pentecostal churches readily adopted and contributed to the gospel music publications of the early 20th century. Late 20th-century musicians such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mahalia Jackson, Andrae Crouch, and the Blackwood Brothers either were raised in a Pentecostal environment, or have acknowledged the influence of that tradition.
The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music, and James D. Vaughan used radio as an integral part of his business model, which also included traveling quartets to publicize the gospel music books he published several times a year. Virgil O. Stamps and Jesse R. Baxter studied Vaughan's business model and by the late 1920s were running heavy competition for Vaughan. The 1920s also saw the marketing of gospel records by groups such as the Carter Family.
The first person to introduce the ragtime influence to gospel accompaniment as well as to play the piano on a gospel recording was Arizona Dranes.
In African-American music, gospel quartets developed an a cappella style following the earlier success of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The 1930s saw the Fairfield Four, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, The Soul Stirrers, the Swan Silvertones, the Charioteers, and the Golden Gate Quartet. Racism divided the nation, and this division did not skip the church. If during slavery blacks were treated as inferior inside the white churches, after emancipation they formed their own separate churches. The gospel groups which were very popular within the black community, were virtually unknown to the white community, though some in the white community began to follow them. In addition to these high-profile quartets, there were many black gospel musicians performing in the 1920s and 30s, usually playing the guitar and singing in the streets of Southern cities. Famous among them were Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Joe Taggart and others.
In the 1930s, in Chicago, Thomas A. Dorsey (best known as author of the song "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"), who had spent the 1920s writing and performing secular blues music under the name "Georgia Tom", turned to gospel music, establishing a publishing house. He had experienced many trials in his life,including the death of his pregnant wife. Thomas gained biblical knowledge from his father, who was a Baptist minister, and was taught to play piano by his mother. He started working with blues musicians when the family moved to Atlanta. It has been said that 1930 was the year when modern gospel music began, because the National Baptist Convention first publicly endorsed the music at its 1930 meeting. Dorsey was responsible for developing the musical careers of many African-American artists, such as Mahalia Jackson.
Meanwhile, the radio continued to develop an audience for gospel music, a fact that was commemorated in Albert E. Brumley's 1937 song, "Turn Your Radio On" (which is still being published in gospel song books). In 1972, a recording of "Turn Your Radio On" by the Lewis Family was nominated for "Gospel Song of the Year" in the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards.
Following the Second World War, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate. In 1950, black gospel was featured at Carnegie Hall when Joe Bostic produced the Negro Gospel and Religious Music Festival. He repeated it the next year with an expanded list of performing artists, and in 1959 moved to Madison Square Garden. Today, black gospel and white gospel are distinct genres, with distinct audiences. In white gospel, there is a large Gospel Music Association and a Gospel Music Hall of Fame, which includes a few black artists, such as Mahalia Jackson, but which ignores most black artists. In the black community, James Cleveland established the Gospel Music Workshop of America in 1969.
The Gospel Music experience cannot be told in a short story, or even in a melody of songs, for it is far too rich, far too harmonious and deliberately stimulating. It is a living experience, always changing, always giving, and always becoming the foundation that gave moral, physical and spiritual support to a great and powerful people.
Gospel Music is a shining beacon of hope, a fantastic journey of joy divine, and a triumphant victory in God that comes from deep down in the souls of God’s Chosen People. The greatest melodies and the most stimulating songs have been given to this Nation and the World through the African American experience.
There has been no other event in history that has been more compelling, convincing, or persuasive than Gospel Music. Some of the most beautiful music of all times was born out of intense grief and suffering, and Gospel Music is no exception.
It is the Alpha and Omega of God’s spiritual principle that plays upon the keyboard of mans integrity. It is a resonance, an echoing sound throughout the ages that has surrendered the wonders of God’s Almighty creations.
After thousands of years, the sound of Gospel Music is still enthralling and captivating because it stands against the social background as a shadow of today’s community problems and dilemmas. From the 1930’s to the 1960’s desperate circumstances controlled our lives; despair and hope, life and death; but Gospel Music mirrored our predicaments as a collective group of people, it reflected upon our social status, and eventually reverberated in our made up minds that God was indeed on our sides.
The prologue of Gospel Music owes its grandeur and its sense of veracity to Thomas Andrew Dorsey who is called the “Father of Gospel Music.” He combined Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and blues. Mr. Dorsey wrote many songs, two of his greatest were “Precious Lord” and “Peace in The Valley.” Both of these songs were written after the tragic death of his wife and newborn son. These songs have become community owned songs, as singers and listeners throughout the world relate to the words of assurance that are delivered and adopted in the messages.
The influence of Mahalia Jackson is evident in her style and references to the storms of life and of the good that is produced through overcoming adversity. Her melodious voice stirred listeners as they “Moved On Up A Little Bit Higher” and invited them to participate in her songs. She developed a flair for composing songs that moved the heart and regenerated the soul of a people who looked to the hills from whence cometh their help. The songs were so exciting and popular that congregations automatically joined in the singing and shouting as they lifted up the name of Jesus.
Religious freedoms stood in the forefront of a people who knew that God was the beginning and the end. The methodical beats of and the syncopation rhythms of Mrs. Albertina Walker and the Caravan gave birth to a brand new gospel experience. With her words representing patience, endurance, survival, and staying power, her voice rekindled the awesome power of God as she told Him in song “Lord Keep Me Day by Day.” Her dominant presence in religious song has been formulated, devised, developed, and shared among all generations. The Caravan along with Mrs. Walker presented a wholesome type of devotion that rekindled a loyalty, which inspired the people to rise up and become God fearing. Mrs. Walker was born in Chicago, Illinois and began singing in the youth choir at the West Point Baptist Church at an early age, and joined several Gospel groups thereafter, including The Pete Williams Singers and the Robert Anderson Singers. Albertina was greatly influenced by Mahalia Jackson her friend and confidante. Mahalia Jackson took her on the road when she was just a teenager. “Mahalia used to kid me. She’d say, ‘Girl, you need to go sing by yourself.” Albertina Walker did just that. In 1951, she formed the group called The Caravans. She was given the title “Queen of Gospel Music” initially by such notables as the late Reverend James Cleveland and Jessy Jackson for her outstanding achievements within the genre after the death of Mahalia Jackson in 1972.
More than that. The great struggle of the 1960’s until 1980 was a struggle of the common man. It was a battle for rights against privileges, the long, slow, and awkward striving for government, this syncopation consisted of the people, by the people, and for the people- the struggles which were identical in Blacks, Whites, Brown, and Others.
In outward form there is difference and variety, but at the heart of each individual there is equality. James Cleveland expresses this in song “Lord Do It.” Elvis Presley who sung and won a Grammy for “ He Touched Me” written by Andrea Crouch and a song by Walter Hawkins “God Is” gave stamina and determination to sing the Lord’s song even in a strange land of struggling.
And in this common struggle of man / woman we have found that no one member can win or can lose alone. For we are all in this struggle of life together, look around; the musical chord of brotherhood joins us—unified together. Against the most revered and arrogant institution of entrenched Segregation that this Nation has ever experienced, Black people came to believe that we were Somebody and that We do count in the great scheme of things.
It is impossible for us to understand the development of Gospel Music without some knowledge of the temptations that have crossed our faith.
In analyzing those factors that have entered into our moral and spiritual lives, we find that the part that slavery has played in the drama of African Americans life that was experienced in this new land.
The Gospel’s of this era had a measure of strength, might and potency. It revealed humanity in times of severe, brutal, and relentless hardships. But throughout this ordeal, Gospel Music was a place of inspiration. It was a comfort that provided a renewed hope, a renewed joy, renewed peace, and a renewed passion for life. The music is a deep well cast down into a refreshing stream of life encompassing notes.
As the curtains of 1980 through the 1990’s drew opened, there was a soothing melody found in Contemporary Gospel. This new Gospel gave us peace of mind. A peace of mind that continues to be the foundation of real happiness and that peace is the fruit of our love perfectly fulfilled in song / music. It provided great comfort in knowing that we will one day see Jesus. Artists such as V. Michael McKay “All In His Hand,” The Winans, “Tomorrow,” Vanessa Bell Armstrong, “Peace Be Still,” and Thomas Witfield,” Precious Jesus” reassures us in our daily walk with God. In declaring that God knows each of us by name, and that His love for us was affirmed by His death on the Cross-, continue to give us hope in a dark, sin filled world.
We found that nothing lofty, nothing beautiful, nothing good, or nothing too proud is done without love. We have continued to believe through song that “We can give without Loving, but we cannot Love without Giving.” This music must be judged in part by the messages it portrays, not merely by its’ rhythms and beats, but by the ideals and the measure in which mankind realize these ideals. It has produced the cultivation and improvement of the Spiritual principle in man. We are composed of two elements; the one, a little dust caught up from the earth, to which we shall soon return; the other, a spark of that divine intelligence, in which and through which we bear the image of the great Creator. By respect, our voices shout as Blessings go up and Praises come down.
Contemporary Gospel is a development of our faculties and powers through a relationship with God. It reinforced the belief that God is the Master of our Faith and the Captain of our soul. And we need, incidentally, to know enough to know whose we are and what we are here for. This new music had it’s crossover into the world of entertainment through such stars as Ray Charles, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, The Edwin Hawkins Singers (O Happy Day), Andrea Crouch; (The Blood Will Never Lose its Power), which was composed by him when he was only thirteen years of age.
During the 1990’s until 2000 and beyond singers such as Yolanda Adams, “The Battle is The Lord,” written by V. Michael McKay, “Perfect Praise,” written by Brenda Joyce Moore and lead by Lecresia Campbell with Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago, and we can never forget Kirk Franklin, “Why We Sing,” these timely artists have made impressions of international clefs on Gospel music. These singers have carried the beats and measures as they have made an everlasting impact on the American culture and beyond. The songs that they sing are statements of faith that has kept our hearts and minds stayed on Jesus as we enjoy today and look forward to better tomorrows.
The past has revealed to us that all its secrets, and the future hangs over us like the mist of the morning, but the present is as clear and distinct as a mid-day sun. The songs that came from the emancipated people gave them courage through their difficulties and disappointments. It carried them through the Reconstruction Period, through the Black Codes, the promise of forty acres and a mule, through the migration North, through being considered second-class citizens, through Brown vs. Board of Education, even through the Civil Rights era. This Contemporary Music is the heart and soul of today’s gospel music. The music represents that God is our hope, our purpose, and our way out of no-way.
So from 2000 until 2010, the free-flowing music styles of Kirk Carr, “ In The Sanctuary” William Murphy, “Praise Is What I Do,” “Good News,” by Vanessa Bell Armstrong,” Hezekiah Walker, “God Favored Me,” and Israel Houghton, “You Are Good,” are unique to the African American Church History.
Gospel Music is a romance of going to a favorite spot, a favorite tree, and a hallowed spot, just to talk with God. So from the very beginning the African American has believed that God would hear an earnest and sincere prayer or song. This very spirit meant that God could bless whom He would as well as curse anyone according to His Will. From these songs we have been able to tell God exactly what we want, even in a Strange Land.
There has never been a time when Gospel Music has not been a part of the African American Experience. When we consider the tragic, dreadful, and catastrophic experiences which occur to so many in our society- and when we tend to feel and believe that there is no way out, Gospel Music is there to“Take our Hands and Lead us On.”
Gospel Music is not a mere form of entertainment to be had when desired; it is a form of character, obedience, and spirit. It follows upon the long discipline, which gives a people self-possession, self-mastery, a habit of order and peace and common counsel and reverences for God’s will that directs our lives.
Finally, this sincere admiration of Gospel Music, this admiration and reverence is now felt throbbing in every corner of the globe, and are the Musical Chords that bind the Nations of the world together while yet leaving unimpaired that love of country in the individual citizen which in the present stage of the world’s progress is essential to the world’s well-being.
We must Lift our Voices and Sing! Sing! Sing!
The Gospel Music Heritage Month Foundation was established to celebrate and educate people everywhere about the rich heritage of the gospel music genre through word and song by Gospel Music Advocate Carl Davis. In 2008, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) led the passing of a resolution in both chambers declaring September as “Gospel Music Heritage Month”. In each year since its establishment, both local and global celebrations have been held to educate and entertain diverse audiences with the rich history and legacy of gospel.
Gospel music roots run deep into the foundation of America. Its sound, soul and spirit have inspired some of the biggest names within secular music like Al Green, Alan Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Mariah Carey, Marvin Gaye, Randy Travis, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Whitney Houston, among many others. These artists have borrowed gospel from the pews of churches and transported it to the stages of many nations, breaking cultural, religious and geographical boundaries with a message that ignites faith, love and hope. We invite you to join the celebration!
Christian country music, sometimes referred to as country gospel music, is a sub-genre of gospel music with a country flair, is also known as inspirational country. Christian country over the years has progressed into a mainstream country sound with inspirational or positive country lyrics. In the middle 1990s, Christian country hit its highest popularity. So much so that mainstream artists like Larry Gatlin, Charlie Daniels and Barbara Mandrell, just to name a few, began recording music that had this positive Christian country flair. These mainstream artists have now become award winners in this genre.
British black gospel refers to Gospel music of the African diaspora, which has been produced in the UK. It is also often referred to as urban contemporary gospel or UK Gospel. The distinctive sound is heavily influenced by UK street culture with many artists from the African and Caribbean majority black churches in the UK. The genre has gained recognition in various awards such as the GEM (Gospel Entertainment Music) Awards, MOBO Awards, Urban Music Awards and has its own Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart.
Some proponents of "standard" hymns generally dislike gospel music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, Patrick and Syndor complain that commercial success led to a proliferation of such music, and "deterioration, even in a standard which to begin with was not high, resulted." They went on to say, "there is no doubt that a deterioration in taste follows the use of this type of hymn and tune; it fosters an attachment to the trivial and sensational which dulls and often destroys sense of the dignity and beauty which best befit the song that is used in the service of God."
Gold reviewed the issue in 1958, and collected a number of quotations similar to the complaints of Patrick and Syndor. However, he also provided this quotation: "Gospel hymnody has the distinction of being America's most typical contribution to Christian song. As such, it is valid in its inspiration and in its employment." (Robert Stevenson, Religion in Life, Winter, 1950–51.)
Today, with historical distance, there is a greater acceptance of such gospel songs into official denominational hymnals. For example, the United Methodist Church made this acceptance explicit in The Faith We Sing, a supplement to the official denominational hymnal. In the preface, the editors say, "Experience has shown that some older treasures were missed when the current hymnals were compiled."
The Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame is a site operated at Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, by the Southern Gospel Music Association. It was established in 1997. The Hall of Fame is composed of pioneers in the field of Southern gospel music; members are selected by the SGMA annually, and are honored by a descriptive plaque and portrait in the Hall itself. The Museum contains thousands of items of memorabilia and a gift shop. An animatronic quartet, sponsored by Bill Gaither, sings “Give the World a Smile.” Other interesting items on display include a replica of the Blackwood Brothers first bus, interactive video and sound clips, and bronze plaques of Hall of Fame inductees. Over one million people visit the facility annually.
Beginning in 2004, the Hall of Fame began holding their popular annual induction ceremonies. Dollywood closes its doors to the public, and the all-day event is filled with musical performances.
The Hall of Fame is currently under the leadership of Executive Director Charles Waller, who is also producer of the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in Knoxville, TN. Waller has done much to bring the legends of gospel music before a new, younger audience, and is credited by many as Bill Gaither's direct inspiration for his homecoming videos. Waller's contributions to the Hall of Fame have proven beneficial in honoring the heritage of southern gospel music.
Click on any of the names below to hear samples: