100 Years of Gospel

1920s—How it started

The song “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” was a spiritual written in 1927. Mahalia Jackson sang her version of the song in 1958. Mahalia Jackson was a gospel singer born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 26, 1911. Jackson’s parents were Charity Clark and Johnny Jackson, a stevedore and barber on the weekends. Also, Jackson was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout her career, Jackson received 3 Grammies alongside other awards.


The infamous classic song “When the Saints Go Marching In” was inspired by the Book of Revelations. The song originated during the era of slavery. In 1938, the talented Louis Armstrong released his version of the song. Later in the late 1950s, Sidney Bechet created his instrumental version and added some New Orleans style. Bechet’s version is what many today know of the song. Louis Armstrong was a trumpeter who played an important role in jazz history. Sidney Bechet was a saxophonist and clarinetist, and he began recording before Armstrong. Both artists were from New Orleans and played a significant role in influencing the sound of New Orleans that we know today.


Rosetta Nubian Tharpe, known as “Sister Rosetta”, was a well know Gospel singer. Tharpe was born on March 20, 1915, in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, and was the first Gospel performer to record for a major record label. Katie Bell, Nubian Atkins, singer and mandolin player for the Church of God in Christ, and Willis Atkins were her parents. At the age of four, Tharpe began singing and playing guitar. In the mid-1930s, Tharpe moved to New York and in 1938 was signed to Decca Records. Elvis Presley has recorded her songs and Johnny Cash spoke on her impact on his music.


The song “Peace in the valley” was originally written for Mahalia Jackson by Thomas A Dorsey. The song was later recorded by several other musicians including Sam Cooke. Growing up Cooke listened the the song and it became one of the first songs he recorded at 19-years -old. Samuel Cook, well known as Sam Cook, was a singer-songwriter born on January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At a young age Cook began singing lead in a group called the Soul Stirrers. In 1957 Cook decided to go solo. People also refer to Cook as the “King of Soul”. There has been controversy about Franklin’s contemporary gospel style. Some don’t believe his music is the best way to promote Christianity, and it’s seen as commercializing the religion.


The song “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho” is about the battle between Canaan and the Israelites that Joshua led. In 1963, Grant Green recorded his version of the song. Grant Green was a popular jazz guitarist. Green was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 6, 1935. In 1959, Green was hired by Lou Donaldson to play for his touring band. After Donaldson introduced Green to Alfred Lion, he was signed to Blue Note Records. Green was a multitalented artist and played soul jazz, bebop, and even some Latin music.


Despite being told otherwise, Aretha Franklin decided to cover the black power anthem initially sung by Nina Simone. Aretha Franklin is a gospel singer-songwriter. Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, Reverend Clarence La Vaughan Franklin, was a Baptist preacher and her mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin, was a gospel singer. Franklin was a talented self-taught pianist and singer. During her career, she won 18 Grammies and was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock n Hall Hall of Fame in 1987.


Known as the “Queen of Contemporary Gospel”, Yolanda Adams was born August 27, 1961, in Houston, Texas. Adams attended the HBCU Texas Southern University. Once she graduated, she pursued a career in school teaching and modeling but decided to become a singer. In 2016, Adams was awarded the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award by former President Barack Obama. In addition, the Gospel Music Association inducted her into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2017.


 Kirk Dewayne Franklin, known as Kirk Franklin, is a multitalented choir director know for his urban contemporary gospel choirs. Franklin was born on January 26, 1970, in Fort Worth, Texas. At the age of four, Franklin began taking piano lessons and, by the age of 11, became the music director for the adult choir at the Mt. Rose Baptist Church. Franklin had a rebellious period in his upbringing but returned to the church after witnessing the shooting of a friend. Franklin has won several awards throughout his career, including 16 Grammies.


Bishop Marvin Louis Sapp, known as Marvin Sapp, is a Gospel songwriter-singer. Sapp was born on January 28, 1967, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the age of four, Sapp began singing in church and sang throughout his teenage years in Gospel groups. In 1990, Sapp dropped out of Aenon Bible College in Indiana after being invited to sing in the group Commissioned by Fred Hammond.

2010s—How its going

Tamela Jean Johnson, well known by her married surname as Tamela Mann, is a gospel singer and actress. Mann was born in Limestone County, Texas, to “Mother Eppe”, her mother. At the age of 12, Mann began singing in the Church of God in Christ’s adult choir. From there, she went on to join the gospel group Kirk Franklin and the Family. By 2005 Mann was a soloist and released her debut album. Mann is also well known for acting in many of the Tyler Perry plays and movies. In 2016, Mann received a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance/Song for the song “God Provides”.

The multitalented rapper Kanye West created his own choir at the beginning of 2019. There was a lot of controversy about this. West’s Sunday Service Choir performs every Sunday and is conducted by choir director Jason White. The gospel group often remix hip-hop songs and turn the lyrics into gospel lyrics. In one of the group’s first viral videos, the choir remixed the famous song “Box” by rapper Roddy Rich. Like Kirk Franklin’s contemporary gospel style, many argue that it is not real gospel music, and the two are commercializing Christianity. Others are opposed due to West’s unpleasant decisions at the time.

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