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Traditional black gospel

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Title: Traditional black gospel  
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Subject: Urban contemporary gospel, Gospel Song (19th century), Christian music, African-American Christianity, List of gospel musicians
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Traditional black gospel

Traditional black gospel is music that is written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as (in terms of the varying music styles) to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music. It is a form of Christian music and a subgenre of gospel music.

Like other forms of music the creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. It is composed and performed for many purposes, ranging from aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, or as an entertainment product for the marketplace. However, a common theme as with most Christian music is praise, worship or thanks to God and/or Christ.

Traditional gospel music was popular in the mid-20th century. It is the primary source for urban contemporary gospel and Christian hip hop, which rose in popularity during the very late 20th century and early 21st century.

Origins and development

The origins of gospel music are during American slavery, when enslaved Africans were introduced to the Christian religion and converted in large numbers. Remnants of different African cultures were combined with Western Christianity, with one result being the emergence of the spiritual. Jubilee songs and sorrow songs were two type of spirituals that emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some spirituals were also used to pass on hidden messages; for example, when Harriet Tubman was nearby, slaves would sing "Go Down, Moses" to signify that a 'deliverer' was nearby. At this time, the term "gospel songs" referred to evangelical hymns sung by Protestant (Congregational and Methodist) Christians, especially those with a missionary theme. Gospel composers included writers like Ira D. Sankey and Mason Lowry, and Charles B. Tindell. Hymns, Protestant gospel songs, and spirituals make up the basic source of modern black gospel.

Original music (1920s – 1940s)

What most African Americans would identify today as "gospel" began in the early 20th century. The gospel music that Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Willie Mae Ford Smith and other pioneers popularized had its roots in the blues as well as in the more freewheeling forms of religious devotion of "Sanctified" or "Holiness" churches — sometimes called "holy rollers" by other denominations — who encouraged individual church members to "testify," speaking or singing spontaneously about their faith and experience of the Holy Ghost and "Getting Happy," sometimes while dancing in celebration. In the 1920s Sanctified artists, such as Arizona Dranes, many of whom were also traveling preachers, started making records in a style that melded traditional religious themes with barrelhouse, blues and boogie-woogie techniques and brought jazz instruments, such as drums and horns, into the church.

Thomas Dorsey stretched the boundaries in his day to create great gospel music, choirs, and quartets. Talented vocalists have been singing these songs far beyond Dorsey's expectations. The method, dynamics and power behind the songs are different, but God's message is delivered each and every time.

Dorsey, who had once composed for and played piano behind Sister Rosetta Tharpe to apply their very individual talents to his songs, while inspiring church members to "shout" — either to call out catch phrases or to add musical lines of their own in response to the singers.

This looser style affected other black religious musical styles as well. The most popular groups in the 1930s were male quartets or small groups such as The Golden Gate Quartet, who sang, usually unaccompanied, in jubilee style, mixing careful harmonies, melodious singing, playful syncopation and sophisticated arrangements to produce a fresh, experimental style far removed from the more somber hymn-singing. These groups also absorbed popular sounds from pop groups such as The Mills Brothers and produced songs that mixed conventional religious themes, humor and social and political commentary. They began to show more and more influence from gospel as they incorporated the new music into their repertoire.

In the 1930s gospel music of the civil rights movement was referred to as the black gospel period because this was the most prosperous era for gospel music. The message of many of the civil rights activist was supported by the message gospel music was putting forth.

Golden age (1940s – 1950s)

The new gospel music composed by Dorsey and others proved very important among quartets, who began turning in a new direction. Groups such as the Dixie Hummingbirds, Pilgrim Travelers, Soul Stirrers, Swan Silvertones, Sensational Nightingales and Five Blind Boys of Mississippi introduced even more stylistic freedom to the close harmonies of jubilee style, adding ad libs and using repeated short phrases in the background to maintain a rhythmic base for the innovations of the lead singers. Melodically, gospel songs from this era were more diatonic and conjunct. As "the spirit leads the vocalist" the melodies would become more chromatic and disjunct, evoking pure spiritual emotion that was congruent with the accompanying body or musicians.[1] Individual singers also stood out more as jubilee turned to "hard gospel" and as soloists began to shout more and more, often in falsettos anchored by a prominent bass. Quartet singers combined both individual virtuoso performances and innovative harmonic and rhythmic invention — what Ira Tucker Sr. and Paul Owens of the Hummingbirds called "trickeration" — that amplified both the emotional and musical intensity of their songs.

By the 1940s, gospel music had expanded to members of all denominations prompting black gospel artists to begin tours and becoming full-time musicians. In this venture Sister Rosetta Tharpe became a pioneer, initially selling millions of records with her ability to drive audiences into histeria by sliding and bending her pitch as well as accompanying herself on steel guitar.[2] In contrast, Mahalia Jackson used her dusky contralto voice to develop her gospel ballads as well as favouring a more joyful approach to singing the gospel. At the same time that quartet groups were reaching their zenith in the 1940s and 1950s, a number of women singers were achieving stardom. Some, such as Mahalia Jackson and Bessie Griffin, were primarily soloists, while others, such as Clara Ward, Albertina Walker, The Caravans, The Davis Sisters and Dorothy Love Coates, sang in small groups. While some groups, such as The Ward Singers, employed the sort of theatrics and daring group dynamics that male quartet groups used, for the most part women gospel singers relied instead on overpowering technique and dramatic personal witness to establish themselves.

Roberta Martin in Chicago stood apart from other women gospel singers in many respects. She led groups that featured both men and women singers, employed an understated style that did not stress individual virtuosity, and sponsored a number of individual artists, such as James Cleveland, who went on to change the face of gospel in the decades that followed.

The 1960s – 1980s

Gospel started to break way from the traditional church setting, with the choirs, and just singing hymns. There were more solo artists that emerged during these decades. Gospel artists began to perform more than minister; they started to add more genres to gospel music. Disco Music, funk, jazz and many mainstream genres became a part of gospel music.

Rock 'n' roll, country, and rhythm & blues are influenced by gospel music. Many blues and R&B singers began as church musicians and later followed the secular careers. When roots music (which including spirituals) became popular in the 1960s and '70s, a combination of the powerful rhythm and timbres found in spirituals and "hard gospel" combined with the instrumentation and lyrical content of R&B and country contributed to various forms of rock music.

Gospel's influences

Gospel artists, who had been influenced by pop music trends for years, had a major influence on early rhythm and blues artists, particularly the "bird groups" such as the Orioles, the Ravens and the Flamingos, who applied gospel quartets' a cappella techniques to pop songs in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. Individual gospel artists, such as Sam Cooke, and secular artists who borrowed heavily from gospel, such as Ray Charles, James Brown, and James Booker, had an even greater impact later in the 1950s, helping to create soul music by bringing even more gospel to rhythm and blues. Elvis Presley was less known for his gospel but he was a gospel artist. His gospel favorites were "Why me Lord," How Great Thou Art, and "You'll never walk alone."

Many of the most prominent soul artists, such as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett and Al Green, had roots in the church and gospel music and brought with them much of the vocal styles of artists such as Clara Ward and Julius Cheeks. During the 70's artist like Edwin Hawkins with the 1969 hit "Oh Happy Day", and Andre Crouch's hit "Take me Back" were big inspirations on gospel music. Secular songwriters often appropriated gospel songs, such as the Pilgrim Travelers' song "I've Got A New Home," or the Doc Pomus song Ray Charles turned into a hit "Lonely Avenue," or "Stand By Me," which Ben E. King and Leiber and Stoller adapted from a well-known gospel song, or Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get a Witness," which reworks traditional gospel catchphrases. In other cases secular musicians did the opposite, attaching phrases and titles from the gospel tradition to secular songs to create soul hits such as "Come See About Me" for The Supremes and "99½ Won't Do" for Wilson Pickett.

Representative songwriters and artists

  • Charles A. Tindley (1851–1933) is generally considered the "Father of Gospel Music".[3] He composed many Christian hymns, including "I Shall Overcome", which was the basis for the now-famous anthem for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, "We Shall Overcome". Other famous songs included "We'll Understand It Better By and By" and "Leave It There" among many others. His soulful lyrics, rooted in the depth of feeling that rises from an oppressed people, love, patience and tolerance, rather than hate, revenge or retaliation. His hymns still appear in hymnals and songbooks used by all Christian denominations.
  • Thomas A. Dorsey (1899–1993) had such a marked effect on the Golden Age of gospel that sheet music for songs written in his rhythmic, bluesy style were called "dorseys" at the time.[4] Dorsey was an American pianist, arranger and composer of such standards as "Peace In The Valley", which was one of the first gospel recordings to sell one million copies. Originally focused on secular music, Dorsey began to write music with a religious theme after meeting Tindley at a National Baptist Convention. Initially, his blending of sacred themes with the secular musical styles of blues and jazz was condemned as "the devil's music" and shunned by conservative Christians. After several years' persistence, however, his style gained in popularity. Perhaps the most famous is "Take My Hand, Precious Lord", written after losing his wife to childbirth and his newborn son the next day.[5] Dorsey wrote over 1000 songs in his lifetime and founded The National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses in 1932.
  • [6]
  • Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith (1906–1994)
  • Mahalia Jackson (1911–1972)
  • Clara Ward (1924–1973)
  • James Cleveland (1931–1991)
  • Andrae Crouch (born 1942) helped establish the post-Dorsey style of urban contemporary Christian music. Andraé Crouch was a key figure in the Jesus Music movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and strongly influenced future American artists such as Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. Though his contemporary music is still subject to the age-old criticism of diluting the sacred message with contemporary music styles, his songs, such as "Soon and Very Soon", "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power", "Bless His Holy Name", and "My Tribute" have become staples in churches all around the world and recorded by mainstream artists such as Elvis Presley and Paul Simon.[7] He was one of the first African-American Gospel artists to crossover to mainstream contemporary Christian music. Crouch has won numerous awards and honors over the years including eight Grammy Awards, four GMA Dove Awards, and ASCAP, Billboard and NAACP Awards. In 2004, he became the third-ever gospel artist to have a star enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Boyer, H: "Gospel Music", page 35. Music Educators Journal, 1978.
  2. ^ Boyer, H: "Gospel Music", page 38. Music Educators Journal, 1978.
  3. ^ Petrie, Phil. "The History of Gospel Music"
  4. ^ Waterman, Richard Alan. (1951) "Gospel Hymns of a Negro Church in Chicago" Journal of the International Folk Music Council.
  5. ^ Ely, Don “Georgia” Thomas A. Dorsey. Starr Gennett Foundation.
  6. ^ Yearwood, Lloyd; Boyer, Horace Clarence (2000). The golden age of gospel. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.  
  7. ^ Manheim, James M. and Belfiore, Michael (2005). "Andraé Crouch". In Pilchak, Angela M., ed. Contemporary Musicians. Volume 51.  
  8. ^ Andrae Crouch awarded star on Walk of Fame

External links

  • , a collection of African American Christian music; made available for public use by the State Archives of FloridaShall We Gather at the River
  • , Baylor University's catalog and collection of music from the black gospel music traditionBlack Gospel Music Restoration Project,
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