Gospel is a genre of spiritual Christian music, which was formed and started developing in the first quarter of the 20th century in the U.S. Its roots go to back to early African American folkloric tunes and melodies (which, actually, evolved from the songs of African slaves), mixed with the motifs of Pentecostal church worship services and other traditional spiritual singings.
Gospel music can be characterized by strong rhythmic background and catchy repeated refrains. It is usually performed by choirs with dominating high female vocals, to the accompaniment of different string instruments (such as banjo, acoustic guitars, etc.), as well as tambourines, pianos, and others. Modern gospel incorporates elements of spirituals and other more popular musical styles: rock-n-roll, rhythm-and-blues, and even jazz.
The lyrics of gospel are promoting the ideas of Christianity, such as being obedient to God, avoiding sins, being honest and tolerant, living in harmony with people around, etc. The main feature of gospel is high emotional charge and meaningful content of the lyrics, which must be sung with great enthusiasm, passion and divine inspiration. Frequently, the lyrics are quite simple and easy to remember. Gospels can be performed by all singers in unison, or the choir follows a lead-singer.
There are Black gospel and White (or Country) gospel. Initially, both of these styles were formed in the environment of Methodist church in the South. White gospel as a genre of religious music started its development at the end of the 19th century as a mixture of folk melodies and Protestant hymns. Black gospel appeared in the 1930s in Afro-American religious circles and was following the traditions of spirituals.
In the first half of the 20th century, gospel music received great popularity at the market of musical industry. An incredible contribution into popularization of this style was made by Thomas A. Dorsey, a famous composer and pianist, who is known as “the father of the gospel song.” Such bands as The Carter Family and The Swan Silverstones were among the first and the most successful bands, practicing gospel. Between 1920 and 1940, these bands sold a lot of recordings and appeared in the lists of top singers in the U.S.
“Golden Era” of gospel music started in the mid-40s, when it broke its religious boundaries and became more then just church music. Such bright and talented singers as Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Clara Ward and James Cleveland brought this music to night clubs for general public attention. Later on, many worldwide known American rock, blues and pop singers, including Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, were under the influence of gospel and used its elements in their songs.
Nowadays, gospel became an important moving force of our spiritual culture. It continues to be widely practiced in churches as a key principle of performing public prayers. Also, now it is very fashionable among modern singers to use gospel choir singing in the songs of different genres in order to ornament and add unique flavor to their arrangements. We can hear elements of gospel in the compositions of Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Madonna, Billy Joel, Justin Timberlake, Red Hot Chilly Peppers, etc.
For long time gospel music was an exclusive component of American culture, but nowadays it is spread to the other cultures of Christian community. In particular, it became highly appreciated and popular in Norway, where Oslo Gospel Choir and The Ansgar Gospel Choir perform. Many admirers of gospel music live in Australia, where The Australian Gospel Music Festival is organized every year.
Besides, modern gospel music is globally popular and familiar to people of other cultures and beliefs. For example, there is an organization called Gospel Music Association in Japan, located in Tokyo. Its activities are directed on supporting and promoting gospel singers and writers in that country. Moreover, different concepts of rhythmic spiritual music, similar to gospel in Christianity, exist in other religions, such as Islam, Hinduism, etc.
· Gospel Music. (n.d.). Answers. Answers Corporation. Retrieved March 15, 2007, from the World Wide Web: <http://www.answers.com/topic/gospel-music>.