If you were a slave in the U.S. South, you lived a life of abject misery. Your only hope for salvation was the belief that when you crossed over to the other side, your goodness and prayers would be rewarded in heaven. Slaves had nothing to celebrate except their faith in the Almighty, and their hope that singing in praise of the Lord would raise them to a higher place.
Week 1 - The Roots of Gospel Music
Gospel Music is deeply rooted in the rich traditions of the African-American church, which owes much of its origins to the Christian conversion of West Africans enslaved in the US South. Gospel music partly evolved from songs slaves sang on plantations; mostly work songs and the protestant hymns they sang in church. In the late 1800s, African-American churches began mixing various styles of music into their services, including spirituals and sacred songs. We’ll begin our gospel and soul music journey by looking at the very early years of the slave experience in the US.
Week 2 - The Growth of Gospel Music
Church choirs became a norm only after emancipation, and most of the singing was done a cappella. Most churches relied on hand-clapping and foot stomping to accompany the singing. Gospel singing followed the form of the early blues, in a call-and-response style. The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music. James D. Vaughn used the radio as part of a business model to create a music school and publishing company. As gospel music became more popular, it was becoming economically viable.
Week 3 - From Gospel to Soul
The new gospel music that was being composed in the 1940s and 50s began to feature a quartet of singers. Groups such as the Dixie Hummingbirds, Soul Stirrers, and Five Blind Boys of Mississippi introduced stylistic freedom, adding ad libs and using repeated short phrases in the background to maintain a rhythmic base for the innovations of the lead singers. As "the spirit leads the vocalist" the melodies would become more chromatic and disjunct, leading to pure spiritual emotion. During the 50s, lead singers became solo artists beginning to perform more than minister. We’ll look at the beginning with artists like Solomon Burke, Sam Cooke and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Week 4 - The Soul Success
As gospel became more popular and lead singers began to develop solo careers, they melded their gospel style vocals with secular lyrics, which in turn came to be known as soul or R&B music. This new genre dominated the music charts in the late 50s and 60s, with artists like Clyde McPhatter, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Ben E. King and the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin.
Week 5 - Gospel Music Today
Gospel/soul/R&B music has become incredibly varied in style, morphing from the simple blues-based form into many different genres according to culture and social context. We’ll look at where this gospel journey has taken us, from the original African-American experience to the music of today.