History of African American Gospel Music

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    Early Origins

    • Gospel music is rooted in slave spirituals and Protestant hymns. During the late 1800s, the music spread in popularity among white Christians through the traveling revivals led by Evangelist Dwight Moody. The music took root in the black church after its embraced by the National Baptist Convention in 1921. In the 1940s, famed singer Mahalia Jackson brought gospel music to prominence. Gospel also played a crucial role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

    Musical Style

    • African-American gospel lyrics are simple, repetitive and built on the call-and-response tradition of the plantation spirituals. Singing is spontaneous and songs are jubilant and uplifting in keeping with a mood of praise and worship. Contemporary instrumental accompaniments include keyboards backed by guitar, drums and wind instruments, sometimes punctuated by bells, cymbals and tambourines. The music is built on syncopated rhythm, a swing beat and a chorus of simple harmonies.

    The Gospel Message

    • bible verse image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com

      The goal of the music is to spread the gospel, or good news, which is at the root of Christian faith. The music celebrates the belief that humankind can experience forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. It is worshipful and expresses thanks for God's mercy. Lyrics also speak of an expectation of a heavenly existence in the afterlife. For African-Americans, there also is praise for deliverance from their early travails in America.


    • Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) is known as the Father of Gospel. He was a Chicago composer and music publisher remembered for such renown gospel standards as ``Precious Lord Take My Hand,'' written in 1932. Famed singers of the early 1900s include Clara Ward, The Dixie Hummingbirds, The Soul Stirrers and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Contemporary gospel is credited to James Cleveland and Edwin Hawkins (1960s), Andre Crouch and BeBe and CeCe Winans (1970s), and Donnie McClurkin and Kirk Franklin (2000s).

    Goes Mainstream

    • trophies image by Alexander Babich from Fotolia.com

      Between 1920 and 1945, gospel singers organized and traveled as quartets and ensembles. They also began composing music that became popular as it was performed at churches and revival meetings. By the end of World War II, they were recording music that was played by radio stations in such major cities as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Since the 1970s, the gospel music industry and its artists have been recognized by the Stellar Gospel Music Awards and the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards.

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