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Southern gospel

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Southern gospel

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Southern 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



Southern Gospel music is a popular American form of Christian music. The birth of the genre is generally considered to be 1910, which is the year the first professional quartet was formed for the purpose of selling songbooks for the James D. Vaughan Music Publishing Company.

Southern Gospel is sometimes called "quartet music" by fans due to the original all male, tenor-lead-baritone-bass quartet make-up. Early quartets were typically accompanied only by piano or guitar. Over time, full bands were added and even later, pre-record accompaniments were introduced. A typical modern Southern Gospel group performs with pre-recorded tracks augmented by a piano player and possibly a few other musicians.

Some of the genre's roots can be found in the publishing work and "normal schools" of Aldine S. Kieffer and Ephraim Ruebush. Southern Gospel was promoted by traveling singing school teachers, quartets, and shape note music publishing companies such as the A. J. Showalter Company (1879) and the Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company. Over time, Southern Gospel came to be an eclectic musical form with groups singing black gospel-influenced songs, traditional hymns, a capella songs, country gospel, bluegrass, and the difficult 'convention songs'.

Convention songs typically have contrasting homophonic and contrapuntal sections. In the homophonic sections, the four parts sing the same words and rhythms. In the contrapuntal sections, each group member has a unique lyric and rhythm. These songs are called 'convention songs' because various conventions were organized across the United States for the purpose of getting together regularly and singing songs in this style. Convention songs were employed by training centers like the Stamps-Baxter School Of Music as a way to teach quartet members how to concentrate on singing their own part. Examples of convention songs include "Heavenly Parade," "I'm Living In Canaan Now," "Give The World A Smile," and "Heaven's Jubilee."

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Southern Gospel drew much of its creative energy from the Holiness movement churches that arose throughout the south. Early gospel artists such as The Carter Family and The Cook Family Singers achieved wide popularity through their recordings and radio performances in the 1920s and 1930s. Others such as Homer Rodeheaver, the Cathedral Quartet, George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows, became well-known through their association with popular evangelists such as Billy Sunday, Rex Humbard and Billy Graham.

Representative Artists

Some of the best known southern gospel male quartets from various decades include the Blackwood Brothers, the Cathedral Quartet, J. D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet, the Statesmen Quartet the Jordanaires, the Imperials, Gold City, the Kingsmen, the Gaither Vocal Band, the Florida Boys, the the Hoppers, the Masters V, the Inspirations and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Although the genre is known for its all male quartets, trios and duos have been a vital element of Southern Gospel for most of the genre's history, from the Sons Of Song, Wendy Bagwell & Sunliters, and the Happy Two in decades past to more modern groups like Greater Vision, the McRaes, the Crabb Family, the Hoppers and the Ruppes. Pioneer groups like the Speer Family, the Klaudt Indian Family, the Chuck Wagon Gang, The Happy Goodman Family, the LeFevres, and the Rambos paved the way for modern mixed quartets and family-based lineups. Other famous family groups from various decades include the Hinsons, the Talleys, the Martins and the Bill Gaither Trio.

Unlike most forms of popular music where soloists (and/or soloists with background vocalists) generally outnumber vocally balanced groups, vocal groups thrive in Southern Gospel. However, the genre has a growing number of popular soloists. Many of these gained their initial popularity with a group before launching out on their own as soloists. The most popular of these being Squire Parsons, Kirk Talley, David L Cook, Ivan Parker, and Walt Mills.

Gaither Homecoming Series

Traditional Southern Gospel music underwent a tremendous revival in popularity during the 1990s thanks to the efforts of Bill and Gloria Gaither and their Gaither Homecoming tours and videos, which began as a reunion of many of the best known and loved SGM individuals in 1991. Thanks in part to the Homecoming series, Southern Gospel music now has fans across the United States and in a number of foreign countries like Ireland and Australia.

Today's Southern Gospel

In 2005, The Radio Book, a broadcast yearbook published by M Street Publications, reported 285 radio stations in the USA with a primary format designation as "Southern Gospel," including 175 AM stations and 110 FM stations. In fact, "Southern Gospel" was the 9th most popular format for AM stations and the 21st most popular for FM. Southern Gospel radio promoters routinely service more than a thousand radio stations which play at least some Southern Gospel music each week. Recent years have also seen the advent of a number of internet-only Southern Gospel "radio" stations.

Over the last decade, a newer version of Southern Gospel has grown in popularity. This style is called Progressive Southern Gospel and is characterized by a blend of traditional, modern country, and pop music elements.

Lyrically, most Progressive Southern Gospel songs are patterned after traditional Southern Gospel in that they maintain a clear evangelistic and/or testimonial slant. Next to musical styles and artist personalities, Southern Gospel purists view lyrical content as the key determining factor for applying the Southern Gospel label to a song.

Although there are some expections, most Southern Gospel songs would not be classified as Praise and Worship. Few Southern Gospel songs are sung "to" God as opposed to "about" God. On the other hand, Southern Gospel lyrics are rarely vague about the Christian message, which is a complaint many Southern Gospel fans have about non-P&W, but otherwise "Contemporary Christian music" (CCM), especially when those CCM songs "cross over" and receive recognition through airplay on mainstream radio.

Southern Gospel Media

Southern Gospel became popular initially through songbooks. Southern Gospel is one of the few surviving genres that was there to exploit recording, radio, and television technologies from the very beginning and use these advancements to further promote the genre.

The dominant print magazine for Southern Gospel since the 1970s has been the Singing News. Their radio airplay charts and annual Fan Awards presentations are always popular topics for Southern Gospel fans to discuss.

The biggest e-zine for today's Southern Gospel is, which has been reporting on Southern Gospel for over 10 years. The site contains the most recognized weekly Southern Gospel chart as well as the internet's largest Southern Gospel community with forums and a chat room. Their Annual SGN Music Awards are unique in that they recognize accomplishments made within the industry over the past year.

A number of other internet media outlets have been formed in recent years as well. The modern Southern Gospel fan may still subscribe to a magazine, but most keep up with their favorite artists via a Southern Gospel news site on the internet.

Southern Gospel Quartets and Groups

Internet Radio Stations that play Southern Gospel Music

Southern Gospel Websites

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