Gospel music is defined as a genre of American Protestant music, rooted in the religious revivals of the 19th century, which developed in different directions within the white (European American) and Black (African American) communities of the United States.
Oddly enough, “gospel music” is narrowed down to Black culture. Whereas, other ethnicities fall under the genre of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) or Southern Gospel.
Example: Lauren Daigle and Hillsong Worship — whose style isn’t too far off from say, Travis Greene and Jonathan McReynolds — are considered CCM or Christian worship music. After over six years in the industry, gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds only recently crossed over to “Christian” radio with his 2020 song, “Best Thing.”
Think of it as pop versus R&B. The obvious difference is in the rhythm and soul.
So, where’d our gospel originate? Technically, the Bible! *Remember how David danced? See 2 Samuel 6:14-22*
Gospel music dates back to slavery hymns, but gospel music as we know it today emerged around the 1930s. Though, before the contemporary sounds of the early 1900s, it was all about choirs.
In the late 1800s, Fisk University’s Fisk Jubilee Singers, who were known for singing “slave songs” that later came to be known as African American spirituals, became the first choir to go international in U.S. history, opening a door for singers like Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walkers, Andrae Crouch, Edwin Hawkins and more.
Thomas Dorsey, who is a part of the Blues Hall of Fame, is coined with being the “Father of Gospel Music.” He merged the rhythm of blues with traditional spirituals that created a new sound that could be played in and out of church.
Dorsey was responsible for writing “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” which was actually one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite songs — one of his last requests for a rally before he was assassinated in 1968. She even sang the song at his funeral. To many’s surprise though, as traditional as it may sound to us now in 2021, this type of music still received slack because it was played in secular environments.
Sources say Aretha Franklin later helped gospel cross over into the mainstream, but the Edwin Hawkins singers are credited with moving it forward when they released “O Happy Day” in 1969.
Then came Andre Crouch, the father of modern gospel music, who began gracing platforms not traditionally designed for gospel artists in the 70s. Having collaborated with artists including Stevie Wonder, El DeBebarge, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and more, Crouch quickly became known for his contemporary style. It was another new wave — another new wave groups like The Clark Sisters, The Winans, and Commissioned later pushed boundaries on, infusing a little R&B into their music in the early 80s. God was at the forefront of the music but the sound was new to church. What’s most impressive is that members of these groups and their timeless music are still active and relevant today (Karen Clark Sheard, Bebe and CeCe Winans, Marvin Winans, Fred Hammond, Marvin Sapp, etc.)
In the early 1990s, artists like Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin further revolutionized gospel music as we know it today. Franklin, specifically, ushered in a new style of gospel music that infused a bit of hip-hop and reached a new mass of people. It was unlike anything the gospel industry had ever seen.
Even now, three decades later, Kirk Franklin continues to collaborate with artists like Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Tori Kelly, and more. His influence paved a lane for artists like Mary Mary, Deitrick Haddon, and Tye Tribbett, who paved a way for artists like Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Pastor Mike Jr.
And let’s not forget about the soulful sound of artists like Smokie Norful who directly influenced Todd Dulaney and Isaiah Templeton.
Gospel music has evolved since its inception, but one thing remains: The “good news” will always resonate.
For The Culture Podcast: The History of Gospel Music was originally published on blackamericaweb.com