A Tapestry of Sacred Music 2016: Glory Gospel Singers
16 April 2016
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Gospel music has a 150-year history that emerged from Sunday school choirs to televised evangelist movements and extravaganza concert showcases of Christian worship. The genre bears different meanings to different people, but for the most part refers to African-American Christian choirs whose lead singers engage in dazzling displays of semi-improvised call and response singing. Today, there are at least five different branches of gospel music, of which black gospel is the best known and most active.
Gospel expanded in a significant way with the rise of the sheet music industry in the 1930s, alongside developments in recording and radio technologies. As publishers began to collate and distribute new tunes in hymnals and a wide range of songbooks, the genre spread not only within the church but also to domestic audiences with the rise of families gathering to sing wholesome songs at home by the piano. Christian radio stations began programming the emerging form, while early record companies started to groom young improvisers of the genre. More interestingly, however, this period saw the rise of black gospel as a separate genre, branching away from the original Northern scene which later became the enclave of conservative Christians.
Where did you hear it? Gospel in pop culture
Whoopi Goldberg's rendition of Oh Happy Day and I Will Follow Him in the 1992 film about a lounge singer hiding from the mafia in a nunnery served as one of the first introductions of gospel music to Hollywood. But the genre's influence on popular culture began much earlier. Thomas A Dorsey's (18991993) early hymn We Shall Overcome was covered by legendary folk singer Pete Seeger no less, and later by Joan Baez, eventually becoming an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Even earlier, the American classical/avant garde composer Charles Ives frequently quoted gospel tunes in his works. Less obvious than directly referencing specific tunes is the borrowing of gospel solo singing and improvisatory techniques in the vocal styles of major pop artists today, including Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Beyonce. Their characteristically grooving, belting solos remain etched in the memory of many contemporary pop fans.