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Gospel music

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Gospel music

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Gospel music may refer either to the religious music that first came out of African-American churches in the 1930's or, more loosely, to both black gospel music and to the religious music composed and sung by white southern Christian artists. While the separation between the two styles was never absolute — both drew from the Methodist hymnal and artists in one tradition sometimes sang songs belonging to the other — the sharp division between black and white America, particularly black and white churches, kept the two apart. While those divisions have lessened slightly in the past fifty years, the two traditions are still distinct.

In both traditions, some performers, such as Mahalia Jackson have limited themselves to appearing in religious contexts only, while others, such as the Golden Gate Quartet and Clara Ward, have performed gospel music in secular settings, even night clubs. Many performers, such as the Jordanaires, Al Green, and Solomon Burke have performed both secular and religious music. It is common for such performers to include gospel songs in otherwise secular performances, although the opposite almost never happens.

Although predominantly an American phenomenon Gospel music has spread throughout the world including to Australia with choirs such as The Elementals and Jonah & The Whalers and festivals such as the Australian Gospel Music Festival. Norway is home to the popular Oslo Gospel Choir and most importantly The Ansgar Gospel Choir.


Black gospel

Black gospel
Stylistic origins: Spirituals, blues, hymns
Cultural origins: Late 19th century African Americans
Typical instruments: Originally, sparse or none; later pianos, guitars and drums, organ, electric guitars
Mainstream popularity: Peak in 1940s and 50s US, derivatives like soul remain popular
Derivative forms: Rhythm and blues - Soul music
Jubilee quartets - Mass choirs
Fusion genres
Other topics

Origins (1920s – 1940s)

What most people would identify today as " — gospel —" began very differently eighty years ago. The gospel music that Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, Willie Mae Ford Smith and other pioneers popularized had its roots 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. It is also important to note that gospel music is not just a form of music. It is an intricate part of the religious experience for many church-goers.

Dorsey, who, as jonny g, had once composed for and played piano behind blues giants Tampa Red, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, worked hard to develop this new music, organizing an annual convention for gospel artists, touring with Martin to sell sheet music and gradually overcoming the resistance of more conservative churches to what many of them considered sinful, worldly music. Combining the sixteen bar structure and blues modes and rhythms with religious lyrics, Dorsey's compositions opened up possibilities for innovative singers such as 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 free-er 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.

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. 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 jack off 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.

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, 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.

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 and James Brown, 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 is probably the biggest gospel artist but he is also in the rock´n roll hall of fame and country music hall of fame. 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. Secular songwriters often appropriated gospel songs, such as the Pilgrim Travelers' song "I've Got A New Home", which Ray Charles turned into "Lonely Avenue", or "Stand By Me", which Ben E. King and Lieber 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 "99 1/2 Won't Do" for Wilson Pickett.

Gospel choirs appearing in other genres

One trend in modern music is to use a gospel choir occasionally in the middle of a song in a different genre, such as alternative or rock. The following are examples.

Downfall by matchbox twenty
Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers
I'm Alright by Jars of Clay
All These Things That I've Done by The Killers

White Gospel

White gospel
Stylistic origins: Sacred Harp music, shape note singing, hymns
Cultural origins: Late 19th century white evangelical Americans
Typical instruments: Originally, sparse or none
Mainstream popularity: Popularized through secular artists such as Elvis Presley and evangelists such as Billy Graham and Jimmy Swaggart
Bluegrass gospel
Fusion genres

Often called country gospel to distinguish it from black gospel, white gospel music has followed a different trajectory during the past eighty years. Some of its roots are found in the publishing work and "normal schools" of Aldine S. Kieffer and Ephraim Ruebush. It was promoted by traveling singing school teachers, southern gospel quartets, and shape note music publishing companies such as the A. J. Showalter Company (1879), the James D. Vaughan Publishing Company and the Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company.

Southern gospel also drew much of its creative energy from the Holiness churches that arose throughout the south in the first decades of the twentieth century and that created new music, in addition to the traditional hymns of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to accompany their new forms of worship.

Some early country gospel artists, such as The Carter Family, achieved wide popularity through their recordings and radio performances in the 1920s and 1930s. Others, such as Homer Rodeheaver, George Beverly Shea or Cliff Barrows, became well-known through their association with traveling evangelists such as Billy Sunday or Billy Graham.

The city of Hartford, Arkansas, was for a time known as an oasis of Gospel publishing, being home to the Hartford Music Company, which employed the talents of Albert E. Brumley (composer of "I'll Fly Away") and E.M. Bartlett (composer of "Victory in Jesus").

Among the best known southern gospel performers are The Statesmen Quartet, The Blackwood Brothers, the Jordanaires, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, the Oak Ridge Boys, The Happy Goodman Family, and The Cathedrals. As in the case of black gospel, the churchgoing audience for white gospel music has not always forgiven its stars, such as the Oak Ridge Boys, who have crossed over to pop music. Other traditional groups, such as The Imperials, helped lead the development of Contemporary Christian Music. In recent years, Southern Gospel Music has experienced a resurgence of popularity due to the success of Bill and Gloria Gaither's "Homecoming" series of videos, featuring many of the legends of SGM performing together with many currently popular groups, such as The Gaither Vocal Band, The Hoppers, and Ernie Haase & Signature Sound.

The Gospel Music Association is a major group of gospel artists who maintain a hall of fame covering all aspects of gospel music. The Southern Gospel Music Association (SGMA) focuses on Southern Gospel specifically and has a physical Hall of Fame and Museum located in the Dollywood theme park at Pigeon Forge, TN.

External links

The Official Gospel Music Encyclopedia

Further reading

  • Boyer, Horace Clarence,How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel Elliott and Clark, 1995, ISBN 0252068777.
  • Heilbut, Tony, The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times Limelight Editions, 1997, ISBN 0879100346.
  • Albert E Brumley & Sons, The Best of Albert E Brumley, Gospel Songs, 1966, ISBN na-paperback

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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