The Evolution of Gospel Music

Gospel music is a genre of Christian Music that can be traced back to the 17th Century but emerged in the 20th Century. There are visible similarities in the hymns and call and response songs leading up to the gospel era. Artists such as Hezekiah Walker, Tamela Mann, Fred Hammond, and Kirk Franklin are some of the most popular gospel singers today, however, their gospel style though differs starkly from the gospel from the transitional period. Though sometimes controversial, contemporary gospel has managed to appeal itself to a broader audience, more specifically young people. 

Transitional Gospel

The transitional gospel period began in the early 1900s and it represented the bridge between the spiritual and traditional gospel. Historically, the things occurring during this time included urbanization as well as migration North. This music style was led by the spirit performance style or holiness-Pentecostal style. This style applied hymns and spirituals to larger choirs was heavily prevalent in black churches.

Traditional Gospel

Traditional gospel consisted of religious music used in worship and urban contexts to express communal Christian beliefs. It gained momentum in the mid 20th Century and is the direct predecessor to contemporary gospel. Jubilee songs were common spiritual songs during the traditional gospel period. During this time, the music spread to different denominations at people starting taking gospel artists, especially female, seriously as musicians.

Contemporary Gospel

After the gospel music of the 70s, contemporary music put a new twist on the genre of gospel as a whole. Contemporary gospel is the most current form of gospel music and is sometimes controversial due to it’s non conventional tendencies. It combines traditional gospel with musical elements across different genres such as jazz, funk, and R&B. This style was commonly performed by a small group or choir but more and more solo artists are beginning to emerge. Beginning with the Clark Sisters, contemporary gospel gained more and more popularity and has evolved into the modern style we see today in song such as the one in this video, “I Smile” by Kirk Franklin.

Teens and young adults are some of the largest consumers of hip hop music. Young people love to listen to upbeat, fun music. Contemporary music is music that the younger generations to can feel good about and have fun to, as seen with HBCU students. The main goal of most churches is to spread the word of God and a part of expanding the reach includes appealing to young people. Despite facing criticism from the traditional church, contemporary gospel music is the style of gospel that contributed most to expanding the reach of gospel music.