The History of Gospel Music
There is somewhat of a stereotypical image related to gospel music that today’s culture continues to portray. People today are conditioned to imagine the positive, exuberant services seen in African American churches. There is a pure joy in the song, audience participation, and energy in the performance. It is seen as an amazingly wonderful alternative to the mores solemn approach taken by other churches – it offers you the opportunity to praise God with a lot of feeling.
However, there is much more to this type of music than just a passionate call-and-response along with a like-minded choir. Gospel has been around for decades and through that time, it has evolved quite a bit, especially during the 20th century. There is an array of influences and styles that can be seen throughout contemporary music. While it may be confined to today’s church halls in modern times, it is actually much more wide-reaching and diverse than many people realize. Also, while you may hear joy and positivity in the songs, the actual origin of this music and the deeper meaning that it has is much more significant.
Getting to Know Gospel Music
Gospel music is considered a genre of Christian music. It typically has dominant vocals that may use harmony, along with biblical or Christian lyrics.
Traditional gospel music was written to express a communal or personal belief related to African American Christian life.
The purpose behind gospel music is to encourage and uplift all Christian believers while preaching the gospel provided by Jesus Christ through the music, with the end goal of helping non-believers achieve salvation.
The Impact of Gospel Music on the Evolution of Black Music
If you hear conversations between historians discussing the history of black music in the country, they will typically follow a similar timeline, which includes influences and styles. There is an idea that popular culture and modern music were heavily influenced by the surge in popularity of rock ‘n roll. The songs heard in the mid-part of the twentieth century would not have been invented without influence from the rhythm and blues artists (who were mostly black) at the time.
Today’s black artists from urban scenes and R&B can usually trace influences for their music back to the R&B and soul singers that were popular in the mid-century period. There are some who go even deeper into the music of their communities and churches. This all eventually goes back to a much more deep-rooted connection to the development and history of gospel music.
How Gospel Music was Influenced by African American Spirituality
The gospel music that people are familiar with today started in the 1930s. while this is true, the roots are seen earlier in the southern part of the country. In the latter part of the 19th century, many African American communities would come together in church to sing poignant hymns and spirituals and to praise.
The power behind the message and the rhythm created by the music would often be seen in many ways, including through foot-stomping and hand clapping. These are also activities that are still done in today’s churches. Before that time, they were a crucial part of slave culture. In the past, groups of slaves would sing with one another as they worked on a plantation, sometimes selecting older songs that were connected to the faith they had.
For many, this was not much more than a way for them to feel closer to God during times of hardship. For other people, the communal harmonies and songs helped to create bonds between the workers. Songs could also be used as a form of communication.
Even after emancipation, African American composers still used biblical stories and themes for gospel music. This helped to create a connection between their faith and music. The gospel songs that originated in the south (in many cases) were carried into the churches being developed in the northern states.
The New Golden Age and the Diversification of Black Gospel Music
During the golden age of gospel, which occurred from the mid part of the 1930s, there were four separate styles of gospel music. More traditional gospel took the hymns and songs and give them a larger choir. It followed a more minimalist approach, which was expected when the community decided to come together and sing.
Then, contemporary gospel helped to change this and let new, solo artists emerge and tell their own stories. The quartet styles saw many groups of vocalists who sang these songs in much tighter harmonies, which would later be seen in different musical styles. There was also a praise and worship style of music, which is what many people think of when they imagine a gospel choir.
Gospel Music’s Core Lives on Through Many Genres and Artists Still Today
Black gospel music’s influence has spread during the 20th century. Today, it can be seen from the mainstream singers to more urban acts. All of these are done while maintaining a very strong connection to the church. Also, in the 21st century, the gospel rap genre is growing significantly.
However, at the core of this music is the heartfelt and traditional gospel music roots that is still seen in the churches of those in the African American community. Many communities throughout the U.S. will still meet every Sunday to gather together in song and prayer. The lyrics of the older spirituals and hymns are still enjoyed and sung today.
All this influence and history transcends nationality, race, and culture. It is possible to see the elements of gospel and soul music throughout all types of genres and artists throughout the world. Some of the largest stars that are known in the world today, no matter their ethnicity, owe their overall level of success and their sound to the growth and emergency of gospel music in one way or another.
Gospel music has a rich and interesting history that has helped to make it what it is today.