Gospel

Gospel Music

 

American Popular music was one evolving tree of sounds, the sound of The Blues, first emerged from the plantations as the folk blues of the rural south, on the delta and Texas. The Blues influenced early Minstrelsy and Ragtime, and later hot parade and dance bands, and then after Buddy Bolden's innovations became Dixieland or Traditional Jazz. The classic blues of the great recording artists formalised the Blues and stayed close to all styles of jazz of all eras - music of the youth of the era.

Music and the church were inseparable and distinctive church songs had been established in the 19th century, coming out of the African American exposure to the southern churches.

Interestingly the ambiance of the spiritual was of the Old Testament, slavery and the hope of freedom but after abolition the Gospel songs were of the New Testament, celebrations and praise.

 Gospel Music can be traced to its roots in the black oral tradition of the Blues embracing the devices which were used in the negro spirituals of the camp meetings of the great awakening and the holy rollers in the churches.

The Gospel songs and rhythms which emerged had instant popular appeal and became a distinct genre of popular music. In the 20th century a 'disconnect' emerged between music and church.  In all societies it seemed music had always been an integral part of worship and ritual. Certainly Classical music had a rich association with the church. But the Afro American Gospel music took on a life of its own, loved for what it was; an infectious rhythmic music which set the body twitching with joy ... but it was a problematic divorce ... the body twitching with joy was no longer the work of God ... why did the devil have the best music? ... or was that a racialist smear?

the blues as a way of life were a threat to the church ... as Albert Murray described the Blues could be an introspective confessional and as well as a stomping celebration of freedom ... not freedom from sin but freedom to choose ... understanding of life's complexities was the traditional province of the church but now there was a understanding from the Blues an emotional understanding ... 

PolyphonyMusic and The Council of Trent 1545.

The debate about the devil's encroachment into church music goes back to the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent and even earlier? Argument raged at The Council about the intelligibility of the spoken word of God's message and the distraction from new fangled music. The deliberations of the Council reflected the perceived power of music to disrupt the proceedings, it appeared medieval ears were easily offended -

 different modes seemed to produce different emotional effects of joy and sadness on the unsuspecting mind

 different instruments, with the grandeur of the organ or the frivolity of plucked strings could be a distraction ... 

 polyphony, or music with two or more separate melodic lines contrasted with the simple monophonic music of only a single voice and no harmony. After Trent attempts were made to ban all outrageos polyphony and revert to plainsong. Luckily for all music, the Bishops had decreed that decisions on musical styles were to be decentralised and left to local ecclesiastical leaders ... and polyphony survived. Years later J S Bach was pleased ...

dissonance and the treachery of the devil's chord and the tritone ...

elaborate ornamentation and instrumental virtuosity focused attention on egotistical musicians ...

  Against this background of tyranny & oppression from on high the innovations introduced by johann sebastian bach into church music in the early 18th century were sensational!

Music and the church had a history long before the questionable rhythms of the negro came along into the American southern churches?

Did music stimulate and enhance emotions to make the mind more receptive to God? Or did the devil have the best music and divert the attention of the flock?

What ever, Gospel Music was important, but in the minds of many the Music was more important than the Gospel.

Gospel SongsThe 'worship' songs and 'jubilee' songs were of joy and celebration. They generally had dominant vocals with harmony, sometimes choirs, with piano or organ, tambourines, drums, guitars and a syncopated rhythmic groove. A current manifestation is the modern 'praise and worship' music.

Blues musicians like Thomas A Dorsey who took the blues into the Southern Baptist Churches and gave a boost to Gospel Music which became loved all over the world in the same way as Jazz and Blues. The genre was considered by everyone outside the USA as an integral style of Afro American - music of the youth of that era. 

Blues and associated Gospel music also inspired the development of Country Music, Rhythm & Blues, Rock 'n' Roll and Soul which matured into different segments of popular music - the music of the youth of that era.

An exotic mix of influences ebbed & flowed around the south, all interconnected as the music evolved - the music of the youth of that era.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers 'The Gospel Train' 1872, from Fisk University ... other 'trained' choirs followed like The Dixie Jubilee singers ...

Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972), Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945), both were blind street singers who recorded 'gospel blues' ...

1926 The Soul Stirrers started in Texas and pioneered the jubilee quartet style, they were influential in Soul, Doo wop and Motown ... and launched sam cooke as their lead singer in 1950 taking Gospel out of the church into public consciousness ...

1928 The Dixie Hummingbirds, another typical jubilee quartet style of the 1920s ...

The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi were a 'discovery' of Alan Lomax ...

Little Richard enjoyed the stomping, shouting, gospel music and his favorite singer as a child was Rosetta Tharpe!

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-73) paved the way for the 'crossovers' ... perhaps the two big ones were earlier ...

Georgia TomThomas A Dorsey (1899-1993), 'Georgian Tom', a blues singer from Georgia who moved to Chicago and founded Gospel as a potent swinging mix of 'Church Songs' with the jazz & blues rhythms and tonality - 'Take My Hand Precious Lord', 'Peace in the Valley', 'It's Tight Like That' with Tampa Red ... he was prolific, writing maybe 400 jazz & blues songs ...

Georgia Tom put together a band for Ma Rainey in 1924, 'The Wild Cats Jazz Band'.

An exciting irreverence had been brought to church music and the youngsters loved it.

Mahalia Jackson (1911-72), 'The Queen of Gospel' from New Orleans, 'Move on up a Little Higher'. Mahalia Jackson was singing church music from the 1940s. But Mahalia was always sincere, she sang for God and had no truck with 'jazz'. Nevertheless Halie's music reverberated around the Carnegie Hall in 1950 and The Newport Jazz Festival in 1957 ...

Clara Ward (1924-73) with her family, The Famous Ward Sisters, had a long illustrious and commercial successful career in Gospel in the 40s & 50s; Mahalia her mentor, Aretha her protégé.

In 1955 ray charles (1930-2004) established 'Soul' as a distinctive merging of 'Gospel' and R&B - 'I Got a Woman', 'What'd I Say', 'Hit the Road Jack'.

The potent mix of ministry and musical entertainment not only fed the Soul genre but also continued into 1997 when HolyHipHop.com 'took Gospel to the streets' ... music & entertainment glorifying Jesus Christ ... irreverence did not have a monopoly in the world of Rap?

 

back to jazz tradition