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Unraveling the History of the Soulful Gospel Music

History of Gospel Music
What you would term as modern-day praise and worship is essentially gospel music. The songs based on testimonials, have a means to persuade the listener and as such, have a universal appeal.
Cheryl Mascarenhas
Last Updated: Feb 26, 2018
"Gospel music is nothing but singing of good tidings - spreading the good news. It will last as long as any music because it is sung straight from the human heart."
~ Mahalia Jackson
While most hymns sung in churches around the world are based on canticles taken straight out of the Bible, gospel music is more personal and appeals to a majority of the crowd. It is soulful and has the ability to plunge you into an abyss of thought. Gospel itself means "Good News", and gospel music is nothing but spreading this good news through soul-stirring music.

Gospel music is relatively easier to grasp and is filled with feeling and emotions that one can easily relate to. The theme for all gospel songs is the same, they resound the relationship with God. Talking from personal experience, gospel music has always managed to calm my tensed nerves, all because it comes from the depths of the human heart.

Gospel music doesn't restrict itself to a particular genre of music, thus, it can be expressed in any of the music styles, including blues, jazz, reggae, and even rumba.
Roots of Gospel Music
Gospel Music
Tracing back the roots of gospel music, it seems to fore-date the African tradition of oral communication. How is this remotely connected? Well, most African music was centered around daily activities including agriculture, hunting and war. Singing, automatically became a means to achieve harmony both with nature and the cosmos.
As we know, majority of the African tribes were enslaved and forced to attend worship services. These slaves eventually learned the traditional hymns sung at these worship services, and sang them while working on the fields. Over a period of time, their understanding of the Christian doctrine grew, and the slaves began to draw strength from the biblical passages and compose their own songs. The technique of call and response stayed, and it is what gave birth to gospel music.

These African-Americans sought to singing verses and songs as a means to seek solace in their troubled times. The Church thus, became a medium for venting out their repression. The songs inspired from the Bible became a symbol of redemption, a sign of hope and freedom. The birth of gospel music became synonymous with the blacks living in South America. By the late 1800's, this form of expression reached the rest of America through traveling minstrels.
Gospel Music in church
Prior to 1870, gospel music took the role of work songs, jubilees and social gospel. The fight for civil rights and equality gave birth to a whole new genre of gospel music. This music incorporated widely accepted social messages into songs that were sung both in church and outside.
Post the success of black music in the 1960s, gospel music became more performance-aware and equally, socially and spiritually engaging. The 70's and 80's saw the marriage of funk and disco into the essential gospel music. The 90's blended an upbeat explosion with the introduction of R'n'B that scored big. Seeing the increasing popularity, the British boosted their existing gospel groups.
Due credit to Thomas Andrew Dorsey popularly called the 'Father of Black Gospel Music', who combined the rhythms of jazz and blues into Christian praise songs. Songs like Precious Lord and Peace in the Valley have played a major role in delivering words of assurance even today. Another noteworthy mention is that of Mahalia Jackson, also called the 'Queen of Gospel Music', who through her melodious voice caused a regeneration. Such was the power of her singing that people felt encouraged to wholeheartedly participate in the singing.

Following the footsteps of Mahalia was Mrs. Albertina Walker, who stirred, rekindled and inspired the people to become God-fearing. She was named the 'Queen of Gospel Music' after the death of Mahalia Jackson in 1972.
The 80's and the 90's saw a rise of artists like V. Michael McKay, The Winans, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, and Thomas Whitfield who continue to give us hope in dark, sin-filled days. Artists like Yolanda Adams, Lecresia Campbell, Kirk Franklin have left their mark on gospel music, leaving the listener with hope for a better tomorrow.

Modern-day artists like Kirk Carr, William Murphy, Israel Houghton are there to enhance the entire music experience.
Timeline of Gospel Music
1619 - First Africans are brought to the British colony of Jamestown
1730 - The Great Awakening, first major effort to Christianize enslaved Africans
1777 - First African Baptist Church established
1780 - John Wesley's A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodist published
1787 - First independent African-American Christian denomination is created
1800's - Lined-hymns, anthems, shouts and spirituals distinguished as African-American innovation in sacred music
1865 - Constitution of United States passes the Thirteenth Amendment banishing slavery
1871 - Fisk Jubilee Singers begin their inaugural tour, bringing the sacred African-American music to the world
1874 - Gospel Songs. A Choice Collection of Hymns and Tunes released by Philip Bliss
1901 - Charles Albert Tindley publishes songs in Philadelphia
1906 - Religious pioneer William Seymour, begins the Azusa Street Revival, giving rise to modern-day Pentecostalism and a boost for the development of gospel music
1920s' - Production of 'race records', also known as gospel blues and the holy blues begin.
1921 - Gospel Pearls, the first hymnal is published
1931 - First gospel chorus is created by Theodore Frye and Thomas A Dorsey
1938 - Sister Rosetta Tharpe's, This Train hits a record, million sales
1945-65 - Known as the Golden Age of Gospel, thanks to the contribution of Mahalia Jackson, Swan Silvertones among others
1951 - Mrs. Albertina Walker formed the group called The Caravans
1967 - Edwin Hawkins Singers' record Oh Happy Day
1972 - Elvis Presley takes home the Grammy for his album, He Touched Me.
Undoubtedly, gospel songs, even with their melancholy undertones have helped strengthen and boost a whole lot of people. You would say, intense suffering, grief, and stories of separation would put you down and under, but these very subtle songs were the basis of a strong foundation on which faith has slowly been resurrected. It is undoubtedly the highest form of praising and rendering thanks to the Almighty. On this note, it is indeed right to praise the Lord with songs that fiddle with the strings of your heart.