A Century of Gospel: 1920 to 2020


The gospel portion was one I was really looking forward to beginning Survey of African-American Music. I was raised in church, and to be completely honest, the music reeled me in more than a lot of sermons. I consider music, coupled with prayer, to be my primary source of praise. With all of this considered, let’s have church!

The 1920s

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah

(Mother McCollum, circa 1928)

The simple instrumentation of the banjo is related to the jubilee era & even the origins of blues at the time. This song brought me back to Black History Sunday at my home church where the choir sung entirely spirituals such as this one.

The 1930s

If You See My Savior

(Thomas Dorsey, circa 1930)

Another simple instrumentation with an opening piano and guitar that allows the lyrics and melody is emphasized. Dorsey is considered to be the “Father of Gospel Music” who had a hand in creating over 1,000 gospel songs.

The 1940s

Go Down Moses

(Golden Gate Quartet, 1941)

The Golden Gate quartet found fame in arrangements of spirituals such as this with the transitional jubilee sound of the 1940s. I personally enjoyed the tempo change that occurs about two minutes into the sound from  a more traditional to the quartet style the group is known for, then ending just as it began.

The 1950s

Something’s Got a Hold on Me

(James Cleveland, 1959)

This was the first era of recording where I found the presence of a choir–a mainstay in gospel music. In all, this was the first era that sounded familiar and nostalgic to me– especially the call-and-response of “Holy Ghost” complete with music reminiscent of a praise break at the end. Cleveland was very large in the gospel community–with 4 Grammy wins and several more nominations at the top of his accolades.

The 1960s

While the Blood Runs Warm

(Aretha Franklin, 1967)

This rendition sung by a FOURTEEN year old Franklin was released about a decade after its recording & was a pleasant reminder that Franklin and many, many other Soul and R&B artists to follow had church upbringings and honed their vocal skills leading choirs and church solos.

The 1970s

Soon and Very Soon

(Andrae Crouch, 1976)

Curating the remainder of this list was a breeze as the songs come straight from my gospel playlist. Here, we highlight Andrae Crouch–who went on bring gospel to new international heights with compositions present on the criticially-acclaimed  blockbusters The Color Purple and The Lion King as well as Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and several Michael Jackson songs including “Will You Be There?” and “Man in the Mirror.” As for “Soon and Very Soon”, I adore the inclusion of percussion as well as the soloist that comes in around the 90 second mark–whose delivery reminds me of singers of the time such as Stevie Wonder.

The 1980s

You Brought the Sunshine

The Clark Sisters, 1981

Similarly to the Hawkins and Winans families of the time, the Clark family has held a grip on the gospel community beginning in the 1960s with their mother Mattie Moss Clarke and continuing into today with Kierra Sheard, daughter of Karen Clark Sheard. In “You Brought the Sunshine”, the family provides angelic harmonies rivaling girl groups such as the Supremes with a reggae-esque backing.

The 1990s

No Weapon

Fred Hammond, 1996

No one said the weapon would not form, but will it prosper? No Weapon is not only my favorite song from the 1990s–but my favorite gospel song in whole as it derives from my favorite Scripture Isaiah 41: 10 which states “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper and every tongue which rises against thee in judgment shall be condemned.” As a Christian, the idea that when hopeless moments arise, God will never let any if those things be your ultimate downfall is a major pinnacle of my faith and Hammond beautifully encompasses this message in song.

The 2000s

He Lives (Awesome God)

Kirk Franklin, 2002

At the bare minimum, you bopped your head to this. And if you’re me, it is the hypest part of my praise break. As one knows The Essential Kirk Franklin backwards and forwards, He Lives (Awesome God) supersedes every other Kirk Franklin song to me.  It was my earliest exposure to gospel music outside of the church & I refused to allow anyone to skip it as a child. It is an infectious tune with only grew with age as I moved away from being attracted to only the music and began to associate great admiration for the Creator with the lyrics of the song.

The 2010s

If He Did It Before…Same God

Tye Tribbett, 2013

I would call this a nostalgic pick as I associate this song with my church youth group days. Tribbett’s energy is contagious throughout a lot of his music. Additionally, I love the musical arrangements with the rock elements added to the end of the song.

The 2020s

God Can/Let Go

PJ Morton, 2020

Here’s one from the home team! New Orleans native & Morehouse College alum PJ Morton is the most recent  Grammy recipient for Best Gospel Album–which was a beautiful work especially for gospel fans as the album features Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary and Morton’s father Bishop Paul Morton as well as R&B fans as Morton is an R&B artist by trade and the influence in. Cod Can/Let God opens with a horn intro reminiscent of the stylings of disco–particularly Earth, Wind, and Fire came to mind, and features Smokie Norful for a touch of gospel.

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