Best Gospel Songs by Decade - As Someone Who Has Never Listened to Gospel

Until I came to Spelman, I had never purposely listened to much gospel music. I was raised by a white mother and never once stepped foot into a Black church… much less any church for that matter. However, while I am uninitiated to the world of being woken up early in the morning on a weekend to the sounds of Black worship songs, I have taken some time to listen and have prepared a list of my favorites by decade.

1920s

This is one of the earliest recordings I could find. It was recorded by the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet in 1925. It shows the style of jubilee quartet at the time.

1930s

Thomas A. Dorsey is considered to be one of the fathers of gospel music. This song in particular was written in 1937, and was the favorite song of Martin Luther King Jr. It has been recorded many times, particularly by Marhalia Jackson. It is one of the most legendary gospel songs of all time and was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Marhalia Jackson’s rendition was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012.

1940s

This is a recording of “Noah” by the Jubalaires. Compared to the earlier example of jubilee quartet, it is interesting to see how it evolved over 20 years. This specific example jumped out to me because of the description of a Biblical story in an interesting way. Also, the spoken text in time is like a precursor to rap.

1950s

This is one of Aretha Franklin’s earliest recordings, recorded when she was just 14 years old. What a voice at that age!

1960s

I love everything about this recording. The group of women, the powerful voices, and the pianist. Amazing. I love Black women.

1970s

I absolutely love the rhythm and style of this song. It uses the call-and-response form of traditional gospel songs, while infusing it with the music style that was popular in the 70s. It makes me want to get up and dance! It almost reminds me of some of Aretha Franklin’s secular stuff, namely her song “Say a Little Prayer”

1980s

I absolutely love that the music of this period is very upbeat and makes you want to dance. This song in particular puts a smile on my face, not necessarily because of the message, but because of the energy it has.

1990s

Technically, this song was released in the year 2000, but when you start counting, you don’t start from zero, do you? This is definitely where gospel has more of an R&B sound. I first heard this song in the car of my friend Crystal, who doesn’t listen to “worldly music” due to her devout Seventh Day Adventist beliefs. I’ve actually listened to this song several times since that day. Let’s just forget the politics of the singers…

2000s

In my Spanish class my sophomore year of high school, I sat next to a senior football player who, at random times, would start singing “NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE ITTTT!” Now the song gets stuck in my head and I find myself singing it too!

 

This song has strangely remixable properties, and I’ll never forget my time at an AUC pageant where the DJ played a remix. My entire friend group’s jaws dropped.

2010s

Back in 2015, my (white) grandma forced me to go to this Christian youth group while I was visiting her in rural Michigan. I was the only Black person in the town, but I remember them singing this song at the youth group. The power you need as a Black artist to break into the white rural Midwestern youth group crowd? Amazing.

Alternatively...

Everybody knows about Beyonce, Kelly Rowland, but less about Michelle Williams. She’s now a gospel singer. And honestly, if Jesus say yes,  nobody can say no. If Jesus says yes to me eating an extra donut, nobody can say no. Period Michelle.

 

This song was shown to me in English class by a classmate who passed away about 2 weeks after showing it to me. I haven’t listened to it since, but it is a nice reminder of his energy and his enthusiasm about Destiny’s Child.

2020s

The 2020s are just beginning, but I found this song on Spotify and really enjoy it. I think it’s about God’s love, but it does not advertise itself as being majorly religious.