A Century of Gospel – Gospel Through the Decades

Gospel music is an African American religious music that emerged in the earliest 20th century within urban cities following the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North. From the genre’s origins in the 1920s and 30s to today, gospel music has evolved and developed in several ways that reflect its origins in the African American community and the intersection between the African American religious community and African American music.

1920s

"I Shall Wear A Crown" - Arizona Juanita Dranes

The song “I Shall Wear A Crown” was recorded by the artist Arizona Juanita Dranes in 1928. Dranes was a member of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) Church, a church which, along with Pentecostalism, had huge influences on the development of gospel music. This song is sung in the transitional gospel style because it was created and sung during the period in-between the former folk spiritual style of religious music and the development of traditional gospel music. Dranes’ singing, in particular, is interesting because she also incorporated a ragtime-like style in her songs.

1930s

"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" - The Heavenly Gospel Singers

Earliest known recording of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by The Heavenly Gospel Singers

Performance of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by notable singer, Mahalia Jackson

“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” was written in 1937 by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, a blues singer turned Christian evangelist who was influential in creating gospel music. Dorsey’s composition was written in response to his grief over his wife and son’s death due to childbirth. This music displays the traditional gospel music style and Dorsey’s inclusion of blues and jazz elements in the gospel music that he wrote. The song’s earliest known recording was by the Heavenly Gospel Singers, but another notable performance of the song is by singer Mahalia Jackson.

1940s

"Don't Take Everybody to Be Your Friend" - Sister Rosetta Tharpe

The song “Don’t Take Everybody to Be Your Friend” was recorded by notable gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1947. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was greatly influenced by the Pentecostal Church, where her mother was an evangelist, and this influence can be found within her music. She is most notable for using the self-accompanied guitar, which can be heard within this song. “Don’t Take Everybody to Be Your Friend” is an example of traditional gospel music because of Tharpe’s use of the guitar and the influence of blues music. This song is also a good example of Tharpe’s later influence on the R&B and rock-and-roll genres.

1950s

"Be With Me Jesus" - The Soul Stirrers

The song “Be With Me Jesus” was recorded by the gospel group, the Soul Stirrers in 1952. The Soul Stirrers were a group that was initially a jubilee quartet that later changed to a gospel quartet sound after being influenced by gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The song “Be With Me Jesus” is a good example of the gospel quartet sound and features the use of the call-and-response tradition within gospel music.

1960s

"Oh Happy Day" - The Edwin Hawkins Singer

The song “Oh Happy Day” was arranged by the gospel singer Edwin Hawkins and recorded by his group, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, in 1968. The song became extremely popular and was the first gospel song to chart the secular music charts. The release of “Oh Happy Day” in 1969 began the movement of the gospel genre from the traditional gospel music style to the contemporary gospel music style. This style is best identified by the embracing of secular styles within the genre, and “Oh Happy Day” began the development of significant crossovers with gospel music and other/secular genres.

1970s

"Come By Here, Good Lord" - Walter Hawkins

The song “Come by Here, Good Lord” was recorded by gospel singer and pastor Walter Hawkins in 1978. The song is a part of the contemporary gospel music style as it combines elements of secular music.

1980s

"Lost Without You" - CeCe & BeBe Winans

“Lost Without You” was recorded by gospel music brother and sister duo CeCe and BeBe Winans in 1989. CeCe and BeBe became extremely popular, releasing gospel music that received acclaim within the realms of both contemporary gospel music and R&B music.

1990s

"Stomp" - Kirk Franklin

The song “Stomp” was released in 1997 by Kirk Franklin. The song was a crossover hit as it was recorded with the rapper Cheryl “Salt” James from the rap duo Salt-N-Pepa. “Stomp” became one of the most popular gospel songs of the 1990s and was named “Song of the Year” at the 1997 Steller Awards. The song was also highly successful on R&B and Contemporary Christian music charts. “Stomp” is a part of the contemporary gospel music style due to Franklin’s use of rap, hip-hop, and funk music genres.

2000s

"New Life" - John P. Kee

“New Life” was a contemporary style gospel song released by gospel singer and pastor John P. Kee and his community choir, the New Life Community Choir, in 2007.

2010s

"I'll Find You" - Lecrae ft. Tori Kelly

“I’ll Find You” is a Christian/gospel hip-hop song released by Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae and featuring singer Tori Kelly in 2017. The song is a part of the contemporary gospel music style due to Lecrae’s use of hip-hop.

2020s

"Something Has to Break" - Kierra Sheard ft. Tasha Cobbs

“Something Has to Break” is a gospel song released by Kierra Sheard featuring gospel singer Tasha Cobbs in 2020. The song is a part of the contemporary gospel music style.

Artist Paper – Kehlani

Kehlani “Success to me is only two things: happiness and stability.” Artist History Kehlani Ashley Parrish was born in Oakland, California, on April 24, 1995.

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