“Gospel music was different from the approved hymns and spirituals.
It had a beat.
Many ministers and other folks genuinely believed gospel music was wrong.”
Gospel music is a blend of Protestant religious hymn tradition and blues and ragtime rhythms. This musical genre dates back to the 1930s. There is also a second meaning of the word “gospel” (“gospel” in Old English meant a “good story”) as the definition of any song which uses lyrics based on the Christian faith. As a musical genre, gospel comes from spirituals, Protestant church songs and is rooted in African American culture.
African-Americans used Christian lyrics to express themselves through singing and created the first gospel songs. That’s why the gospel has many elements characteristic of the African music-making tradition (five-note pentatonic scale, subtle hush, plaintive moan, stentorian tones, and surging phrases).
Even if such genres of African music as Highlife and Afrobeat are so different from gospel, you can find some similarities in their harmonies and melodies.
Even if gospel as a musical genre dates back to the 20th century, the roots of black gospel music can be found in the 18th century, when the African American community in the United States, converted to Christianity by their slave owners were required to attend Christian church services and sing hymns back to the preacher during liturgy.
White gospel music tradition also has its roots in the Protestant Christian hymnody but it was musically a bit different from the gospel of African-American communities.
Gospel music as a genre of American Protestant music is very interactive: Unlike Catholics, Protestants have always treated worship as something more “public,” and the tradition of „holy dances“ to the religious music in church is rooted in the Protestant tradition.
In the 20th century, the Holiness and Pentecostal churches in America developed this tradition, and during their church services, it was common for churchgoers to dance, stomp their feet and perform different movements.
Very important for the evolution of gospel music was 1921, the year of of published Gospel Pearls, collection of spirituals and hymns. There were also other gospel song collections compiled by Robert Lowry, Lowell Mason, Charles McCallom, and Alexander Rodeheaver and written by Fanny Crosby. Worth mentioning are also music of Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908) and singer and composer Phillip Bliss (1838 – 1876).
By this time, the gospel genre had undergone some changes. The lyrics had become less serious, and while previously most gospel songs used an organ as accompaniment, the new secular gospel songs used such musical instruments as piano and trombone solos.
One of the most famous gospel musicians and composers was the pianist, singer, and composer Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1933), moreover, he is widely known as the “Father of Gospel”.
Born in a family of music teachers and Baptist preachers, Dorsey took an active interest in music as a child and became later an accomplished jazz musician and blues pianist.
In addition to blues-like compositions, he created many compositions based on standard Christian hymns but with a blues-like beat. Even though his music was not accepted as official music in the churches, Dorsey actively performed his compositions outside the churches, but his most famous compositions were those performed by prominent singers including Mahalia Jackson.
Later Dorsey was elected national president of the new organization the National Convention of Choirs and Choruses. The biggest hits of Dorsey’s career (and in general he composed more than 2,000 songs!) were “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,”, “Hide Me In Thy Bosom,” “There’ll Be Peace in the Valley for Me,” and “Old Ship of Zion.”
The music of Dorsey and his contribution to the African-American gospel tradition had a great impact on both black and white gospel music traditions and has done much to bring them together and unite them.
Other prominent black and white gospel music composers and performers of the first half of the 20th century were Charles Tindley (1851-1933), author of “We Shall Overcome” and “I’ll Overcome Someday”, Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972), Roberta Martin (1907-1969), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973), Harry Burleigh (1866-1949), Richard Smallwood (‘Total Praise’ and ‘Holy Holy’), and reverend C.L. Franklin of Detroit 1915-1984), author and father of famous soul music singer Aretha Franklin.
Aretha Franklin’s (1942-2018) music genre wasn’t gospel, but she also made several beautiful gospel compositions. Prominent female gospel singers and composers were Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972), author of the famous ‘Move on Up a Little Higher’ and ‘I Can Put My Trust in Jesus’, who is often referred to as the Queen of Gospel, and Shirley Caesar, who is often referred as the “First Lady of Gospel”.
In the first half of the 20th century, one of the largest centers of gospel music was Chicago, and by the 1960s gospel music spread over the country, and there were many new gospel groups and singers.
In the second half of the 20th century, a major role in the spread of gospel music was played by James Cleveland, который organized the Gospel Music Workshop в 1968. The famous 20th-century gospel groups were Edwin Hawkins Singers, Yanceyville’s Badgett Sisters, Take 6, Richard Smallwood Singers, London Adventist Chorale, and the Standard.
Notable gospel composers were George Beverly Shea (1909-2013) and John Willard Peterson (1849-1934). It should also be noted that at the end of the 20th century, a new trend emerged within the gospel, often called the country gospel with such exponents as the Statler Brothers and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Today gospel music can be heard 24 hours daily on TV programs, on the radio, and on records, and is an international phenomenon. No matter your land, language, ethnicity, religion, and tastes, you can find inspiration in gospel music.
Whether you are a religious person or not, a fan of classical music, or a person who is passionate about hip hop, soul and likes to bet vip sports, you can always find in a gospel song or a composition with elements of gospel something you will enjoy.
In the second half of the 20th century and 21st century gospel music experiences its revival through internationally famous singers and musicians, who tried their hands at writing gospel compositions and covered impassioned gospel songs, including Louis Armstrong (“Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”), Ella Fitzgerald (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”), Elvis Presley (“Mansion Over the Hilltop”), Simon & Garfunkel (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), Whitney Houston (“His Eye Is On the Sparrow”), Bob Dylan (“Pass Me Not O Gentle Saviour”), Westlife (“You Raise Me Up”), Prince (“The Cross”), and Beyonce ““Take My Hand, Precious Lord”).