Glory be to God!: African American Gospel


Gospel music is a form of African American religious music. Gospel music derives from  the folk spiritual which was the earliest form of religious music created by African Americans. 

The Father of Gospel Music: Thomas Dorsey

The son of a Baptist preacher, Thomas Dorsey has always been rooted in  religion. Dorsey grew up playing the organ at his church, but he discovered his true love for music after being exposed to performers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Thomas Dorsey worked to cultivate his musical abilities by learning how to read music and apprenticing himself to more experienced pianist. Later in life, Dorsey relocated from Atlanta to Chicago in hopes of a better life. While in Chicago he attended the National Baptist convention where he felt prompted to begin writing and performing gospel music.

Black religious music that emerged in the 1930s; prevalent in present day African American worship

Traditional Gospel Music

Traditional Gospel Music

Notable Artists

  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Roberta Martin 
  • Albertina Walker 
  • Ciara Ward 
  • Rosetta Tharpe
Gospel music that emerged after the 1970s. This style embraces elements of rock, funk, jazz, and even R&B. 

Contemporary Gospel Music

Contemporary Gospel Music

Notable Artists
  • Walter Hawkins
  • Clark Sisters 
  • John P. Kee
  • Vanessa Bell Armstrong
  • Kirk Franklin 

Characteristics of Gospel Music

A song structure in which a singer or instrumentalist makes a statement that is answered by another soloist, instrumentalist, or group. The statement and answer sometimes overlap.

The quality of sound that differentiates voices or instruments from one another. 

Many contrasting rhythms played or sung simultaneously.

Example of polyrhythms in gospel music: 

  • Hand claps on beats two and four and the movement of the body on beats one and three.

One syllable sung over several pitches.

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