The History of Gospel Music

The Gospel Music experience cannot be told in a short story, or even in a melody of songs, for it is far too rich, far too harmonious and deliberately stimulating.  It is a living experience, always changing, always giving, and always becoming the foundation that gave moral, physical and spiritual support to a great and powerful people.


Gospel Music is a shining beacon of hope, a fantastic journey of joy divine, and a triumphant victory in God that comes from deep down in the souls of God’s Chosen People. The greatest melodies and the most stimulating songs have been given to this Nation and the World through the African American experience.


There has been no other event in history that has been more compelling, convincing, or persuasive than Gospel Music.   Some of the most beautiful music of all times was born out of intense grief and suffering, and Gospel Music is no exception.


It is the Alpha and Omega of God’s spiritual principle that plays upon the keyboard of mans integrity.   It is a resonance, an echoing sound throughout the ages that has surrendered the wonders of God’s Almighty creations.


After thousands of years, the sound of Gospel Music is still enthralling and captivating because it stands against the social background as a shadow of today’s community problems and dilemmas.  From the 1930’s to the 1960’s desperate circumstances controlled our lives; despair and hope, life and death; but Gospel Music mirrored our predicaments as a collective group of people, it reflected upon our social status, and eventually reverberated in our made up minds that God was indeed on our sides.


Theprologue of Gospel Music owes its grandeur and its sense of veracity to Thomas Andrew Dorsey who is called the “Father of Gospel Music.”  He combined Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and blues.  Mr. Dorsey wrote many songs, two of his greatest were “Precious Lord” and “Peace in The Valley.”  Both of these songs were written after the tragic death of his wife and newborn son.  These songs have become community owned songs, as singers and listeners throughout the world relate to the words of assurance that are delivered and adopted in the messages.


The influence of Mahalia Jackson is evident in her style and references to the storms of life and of the good that is produced through overcoming adversity.  Her melodious voice stirred listeners as they “Moved On Up A Little Bit Higher” and invited them to participate in her songs.  She developed a flair for composing songs that moved the heart and regenerated the soul of a people who looked to the hills from whence cometh their help.  The songs were so exciting and popular that congregations automatically joined in the singing and shouting as they lifted up the name of Jesus.


Religious freedoms stood in the forefront of a people who knew that God was the beginning and the end.  The methodical beats of and the syncopation rhythms of Mrs. Albertina Walker and the Caravan gave birth to a brand new gospel experience. With her words representing patience, endurance, survival, and staying power, her voice rekindled the awesome power of God as she told Him in song “Lord Keep Me Day by Day.”  Her dominant presence in religious song has been formulated, devised, developed, and shared among all generations.   The Caravan along with Mrs. Walker presented a wholesome type of devotion that rekindled a loyalty, which inspired the people to rise up and become God fearing.  Mrs. Walker was born in Chicago, Illinois and began singing in the youth choir at the West Point Baptist Church at an early age, and joined several Gospel groups thereafter, including The Pete Williams Singers and the Robert Anderson Singers. Albertina was greatly influenced by Mahalia Jackson her friend andconfidante. Mahalia Jackson took her on the road when she was just a teenager. “Mahalia used to kid me. She’d say, ‘Girl, you need to go sing by yourself.” Albertina Walker did just that. In 1951, she formed the group called The Caravans. She was given the title “Queen of Gospel Music” initially by such notables as the late Reverend James Cleveland and Jessy Jackson for her outstanding achievements within the genre after the death of Mahalia Jackson in 1972.


More than that.  The great struggle of the 1960’s until 1980 was a struggle of the common man.  It was a battle for rights against privileges, the long, slow, and awkward striving for government, this syncopation consisted of the people, by the people, and for the people- the struggles which were identical in Blacks, Whites, Brown, and Others.


In outward form there is difference and variety, but at the heart of each individual there is equality.  James Cleveland expresses this in song “Lord Do It.”  Elvis Presley who sung and won a Grammy for “ He Touched Me” written by Andrea Crouch and a song by Walter Hawkins “God Is” gave stamina and determination to sing the Lord’s song even in a strange land of struggling.


And in this common struggle of man / woman we have found that no one member can win or can lose alone.  For we are all in this struggle of lifetogether, look around; the musical chord of brotherhood joins us—unified together. Against the most revered and arrogant institution of entrenched Segregation that this Nation has ever experienced, Black people came to believe that we were Somebody and that We do count in the great scheme of things.


It is impossible for us to understand the development of Gospel Music without some knowledge of the temptations that have crossed our faith.


In analyzing those factors that have entered into our moral and spiritual lives, we find that the part that slavery has played in the drama of African Americans life that was experienced in this new land.


The Gospel’s of this era had a measure of strength, might and potency.  It revealed humanity in times of severe, brutal, and relentless hardships.  But throughout this ordeal, Gospel Music wasa place of inspiration.  It was a comfort that provided a renewed hope, a renewed joy, renewed peace, and a renewed passion for life.  The music is a deep well cast down into a refreshing stream of life encompassing notes.


As the curtains of 1980 through the 1990’s drew opened, there was a soothing melody found in Contemporary Gospel.  This new Gospel gave us peace of mind.  A peace of mind that continues to be the foundation of real happiness and that peace is the fruit of our love perfectly fulfilled in song / music.  It provided great comfort in knowing that we will one day see Jesus.  Artists such as V. Michael McKay “All In His Hand,” The Winans, “Tomorrow,” Vanessa Bell Armstrong, “Peace Be Still,” and Thomas Witfield,” Precious Jesus” reassures us in our daily walk with God.  In declaring that God knows each of us by name, and that His love for us was affirmed by His death on the Cross-, continue to give us hope in a dark, sin filled world.


We found that nothing lofty, nothing beautiful, nothing good, or nothing too proud is done without love.  We have continued to believe through song that “We can give without Loving, but we cannot Love without Giving.”  This music must be judged in part by the messages it portrays, not merely by its’ rhythms and beats, but by the ideals and the measure in which mankind realize these ideals.  It has produced the cultivation and improvement of the Spiritual principle in man.  We are composed of two elements; the one, a little dust caught up from the earth, to which we shall soon return; the other, a spark of that divine intelligence, in which and through which we bear theimage of the great Creator.  By respect, our voices shout as Blessings go up and Praises come down.


Contemporary Gospel is a development of our faculties and powers through a relationship with God.  It reinforced the belief that God is the Master of our Faith and the Captain of our soul. And we need, incidentally, to know enough to know whose we are and what we are here for.  This new music had it’s crossover into theworld of entertainment through such stars as Ray Charles, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, The Edwin Hawkins Singers (O Happy Day), Andrea Crouch; (The Blood Will Never Lose its Power), which was composed by him when he was only thirteen years of age.


During the 1990’s until 2000 and beyond singers such as Yolanda Adams, “The Battle is The Lord,” written by V. Michael McKay, “Perfect Praise,” written by Brenda Joyce Moore and lead by Lecresia Campbell with Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago, and we can never forget Kirk Franklin, “Why We Sing,” these timely artists have made impressions of international clefs on Gospelmusic.  These singers have carried the beats and measures as they have made an everlasting impact on the American culture and beyond.  The songs that they sing are statements of faith that has kept our hearts and minds stayed on Jesus as we enjoy today and look forward to better tomorrows.


The past has revealed to us that all its secrets, and the future hangs over us like the mist of the morning, but the present is as clear and distinct as a mid-day sun. The songs that came from the emancipated people gave them courage through their difficulties and disappointments.  It carried them through the Reconstruction Period, through the Black Codes, the promise of forty acres and a mule, through the migration North, through being considered second-class citizens, through Brown vs. Board of Education, even through the Civil Rights era. This Contemporary Music is the heart and soul of today’s gospel music.   The music represents that God is our hope, our purpose, and our way out of no-way.


So from 2000 until 2010, the free-flowing music styles of Kirk Carr, “ In The Sanctuary” William Murphy, “Praise Is What I Do,” “Good News,” by Vanessa Bell Armstrong,” Hezekiah Walker, “God Favored Me,” and Israel Houghton, “You Are Good,” are unique to the African American Church History.


Gospel Music is a romance of going to a favorite spot, a favorite tree, and a hallowed spot, just to talk with God.  So from the very beginning the African American has believed that God would hear an earnest and sincere prayer or song.  This very spirit meant that God could bless whom He would as well as curse anyone according to His Will.  From these songs we have been able to tell God exactly what we want, even in a Strange Land.


There has never been a time when Gospel Music has not been a part of the African American Experience.  When we consider the tragic, dreadful, and catastrophic experiences which occur to so many in our society- and when wetend to feel and believe that there is no way out, Gospel Music is there to“Take our Hands and Lead us On.”


Gospel Music is not a mere form of entertainment to be had when desired; it is a form of character, obedience, and spirit. It follows upon the long discipline, which gives a people self-possession, self-mastery, a habit of order and peace and common counsel and reverences for God’s will that directs our lives.


Finally, this sincere admiration of Gospel Music, this admiration and reverence is now felt throbbing in every corner of the globe, and are the Musical Chords that bind the Nations of the world together while yet leaving unimpaired that love of country in the individual citizen which in the present stage of the world’s progress is essential to the world’s well-being.


We must Lift our Voices and Sing! Sing! Sing!