The History of Gospel Music

At churches all across the United States, Gospel Choir’s have spread Joy and inspiration for Hundreds of years. Each Sunday people are clapping hands and dancing to the sound of Gospel lyrics, but why? What is it about the Gospel Song lyrics that moves people to such levels of ecstasy? Is it the words? Is it the surrounding? And where does it all come from?

Although the the church and worship are over 2000 years old, we can only trace Gospel music to the 18th century. Gospel Song Lyrics are very repetitive. Many believe this comes from the slave times when blacks were not able to read, this allowed them also to take part in the worship. The worship services also played a big role in reinforcing the slavery indoctrination, as the sermons were often taken from St. Paul which talked about: good servants, loving, obeying and trusting one’s master. The hymns of the white master became the backdrop for the music of the enslaved Africans which later they used in worship meetings.

The Beginnings

The person who many consider to be the father of Gospel Music, Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) was fittingly the son of a Baptist minister, and played with the most famous blues singers of all time-specifically, Bessie Smith (1894-1937) and Ma Rainey (1886-1939). Ironically his fist love was Blues and Ragtime. After two nevervous breakdowns in 1928, He decided to take a break from the music business and that is where he began to change his direction to religious composing. 1932 Dorsey organized one of the fist Gospel Choirs in Chicago at the Pilgrim Baptist Church. It was here that Dorsey began to write religious music, although he did abandon his style of bright or gaudy lyrics, the rhythmic style of jazz and his love of the blues flavor stayed. But not everyone was overjoyed with the new style of the gospel music, some of the “old guard” conservatives labeled it “the devil’s music” and shunned it. But, he stayed true to his music and lived long enough to write over 800 songs and hear his musics ascend from the first row pews to the choir stand, where it previously had been banned. To insure this, Dorsey founded The National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses in 1932, an organization still in existence today.

A 1994 Score magazine article titled “The Father of Gospel Music” quoted Dorsey as saying, “When I realized how hard some folks were fighting the gospel idea, I was determined to carry the banner.”

Carry it he did. “I borrowed five dollars and sent out 500 copies of my song, ‘If You See My Savior,’ to churches throughout the country…. It was three years before I got a single order. I felt like going back to the blues.”

Many Famous Singers have their roots in Gospel Music

Once Gospel music was defined as religious, but gospel has moved to the mainstream and has its mark on all other types of music and popular culture. The list of singers who got their start in music from singing in the choir is way to long to even begin to write down in this small space but just to get an idea of what legends started out with the gospel song lyrics before moving on to other genres of music are Superstars in pop and soul such as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston or Mary J. Blidge. Also Country stars like Tennessee-Ernie-Williams and Glen Camble and yes even the king himself Elvis Presley started with gospel music.

The Most Famous Gospel Choir

Probably the most famous Gospel choir is the „Harlem Gospel Choir“ It was founded in 1986 and has spent the better part of the last 25 years touring the country raising money for children charities and spreading the love of gospel music to millions of people. Allen Baily was the founder and he got the idea while attending a celebration to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, JR. At the Cotton Club in Harlem.The Choir includes some of the best singers and musians from black churches in Harlem and the Greater New York area. The choirs main goal is to create a better understanding of the African-American culture & the inspirational music called Gospel as it relates to the Black Church. But, certainly the music is for everyone. If you see a concert in your area its always a good recommendation to attend this gospel celebration of singing and dancing!.

Todays Gospel Music

Gospel Music has branched out in so many directions over the years. Now Christian rock is the new age of music and the singers are listed weekly on the bill board gospel charts. There is a GMA (Gospel Music association) it has become a multi million dollar business as well. But no mater how the sound changes over the years, the roots will always be from heart and soul of the black American slaves that started this wonderful sound.