Gospel Goes Mainstream

Gospel Origins

Gospel is a religous genre of music that is rooted deep in the African American community. It was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a way to express spirituality and faith through music.  It’s origins can be traced back to spirituals sung by enslaved Africans in the United States. These songs helped enslaved Africans communicate in code due to slaveholders forbiding the use of native African languages. The end of the Civil War prompted Blacks to gather in their own churches and congregations. New forms of religous music were formed that combined spirituals with other musical styles such as jazz, blues, and ragtime. 

Early days of gospel music began in the 1920s with the emergence of pioneers such as Thomas A. Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson. Thomas A. Dorsey is reffered to as the “father of gospel music”, who was a blues pianist turned Christian who wrote gospel songs in the 1920s. Mahaila Jackson is known as the “queen of gospel” due to her powerful voice and passionate performances that brought gospel music to the forefront of popular culture in the 1950s/1960s.

Through the Decades

1920s-1930s: Early day gospel music was marked by the emergence of Thomas A. Dorsey and feautred elements of ragtime, blues, and jazz, along with four-part harmony quartets. 

1940s-1950s: Thanks to live performances and radio broadcasts, gospel music gained popularity and was known for upbeat sounds, large choirs, and call-and-response vocals. 

1960s-1970s: Gospel music in this period infused elements of R&B influence and soul, while simultaneously addressing social justice and civil rights. 

Going Mainstream

The 1980s saw the turn of gospel music. Gospel music began to turn mainstream due to various reasons.

  1. The increase of Christian music in general. 
  2. With more and more people becoming Christian, the demand for gospel music began to grow.
  3. Gospel music began to crossover and incoporate other genres like hip-hop and r&b, which helped reach a wider audience. 
  4. The rise of gospel choirs and vocal groups contributed to gopsel music’s popularity.


Gospel music has continued to evolve by blending various musical styles and contemporary sounds. Artists like Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, Travis Greene, Tasha Cobbs, and Johnathan McReynolds have not only stayed true to the roots of gospel music, but have aided in maintaing the success of gospel music. 

Shaped by its rich history and cultural context, gospel music has inspired and uplifted its listeners through messages of love, faith, and hope. 

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