20th Century v. 21st Century Gospel

20th Century v. 21st Century Gospel Music

Origin of Gospel Music

Gospel Music began after the Great Migration of blacks after the World Wars from the south to the north. Negro spirituals heavily influenced text Gospel music surprisingly was very controversial when it first began. Many religious blacks did not think the gospel could be sung, but rather it could only be preached. This is one of the many reasons why the term “Gospel Music” was not used until the late 1930’s. A key element the led to the development of Gospel Music was the one-room folk church common in the south which transitioned into being the storefront church in the north. Storefront churches were retail spaces that were converted into worship sites or sanctuaries. Storefront churches are still relevant in the black community in both the South and the North. Storefront churches were relatively small, it wasn’t until the emergence of “shouting” churches, that larger worship sites for blacks started to become common. Shouting churches seated over two thousand members and were typically Baptist and Methodist churches. These churches are where the term “shouting” or highly energized worshiping, derived from.

This type of churches would later go on to develop into the megachurches we know today.


20th Century Gospel- Thomas A. Dorsey

Negro spirituals and jubilee quartets were two genres that had significant influence on the development of gospel music. In addition to those two genres, blues music influenced gospel music which is demonstrated through Thomas A. Dorsey. Dorsey was born in Villa Rica, GA but was a part of the Great Migration and moved to Chicago, Illinois. Growing up, Dorsey was fascinated with blues music and would listen to legendary blues artists such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. At the young age of sixteen years old, Dorsey developed the title of being the best blues piano player in Chicago. When Dorsey initially moved to Chicago, he really did not have any religious affiliation until he attended a National Baptist Convention in Chicago in 1921. This is considered to be the turning point in which Dorsey decided to be religiously affiliated and joined New Hope Baptist Church. Dorsey became the music director for the choir at this church which is considered to be the beginning of his gospel writing part of his career. Dorsey was known for applying blues-like rhythms and melodies to traditional Gospel hymns. He wrote his own lyrics and sheet music. Many of his songs such as “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and “If I don’t Get There” became standard gospel songs in black churches nationwide.

21st Century Gospel - Marvin Sapp

Bishop Marvin Louis Sapp is a gospel singer-songwriter, founder and senior pastor of Full Life Center Church from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a multi-award-winning solo Gospel artist known for his highly emotional songs. His songs are extremely powerful and emotional. His style of music can be portrayed more as a conversation with God than him simply singing. He is the most award-winning Gospel artist winning multiple awards for his albums “Here I am”, “Thirsty”, and “I Win”. His emotionally powerful songs often times derive from the hardships he has encountered during his lifetime. His album “I Win” was created from expressing the pain Sapp experienced when he lost his wife to colon cancer. He often times talks about wanting to give up or feeling at an all-time low during this time in multiple songs on this album.


Similarities and Differences

Traditional or early 20thcentury gospel music and the gospel music that is popular today, have many commonalities and differences. After listening to and analyzing Thomas A. Dorsey’s “If you see my savior” and Marvin Sapp’s “My Testimony”, the comparison was relatively easy to make. Both pieces of course have sacred lyrics having the common topic of talking about their faith. In Dorsey’s “If you see my savior” he never explicitly says he is talking about God, but rather alluding to it by using the word savior. Marvin Sapp also never mentions God explicitly as well. A very distinctive characteristic of modern Gospel is the repetition. Many modern gospel songs only have one or two verses that repeat multiple times throughout the songs. All three verses in Dorsey’s piece contain different lyrics; however, Sapp’s piece is composed of two verses that repeat themselves 3-4 times. This is common for most modern Gospel songs. Another difference between the two pieces is that Marvin Sapp is having more of a dialogue with the audience whereas Thomas Dorsey is simply singing. Both pieces seem to be a fuse of another genre of music. Dorsey was known for adding blues rhythms and melodies to Gospel music which is evident in this piece. Marvin Sapp has an R&B touch to his piece. Marvin Sapp  topped the Gospel and R&B billboard charts for “Never Would Have Made It”.

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