Gospel Through the Decades

by Claire Jackson


This is Arizona Dranes’ performance of “Lambs Blood Has Washed Me Clean” from 1926. The secular sounds of her music that implemented elements such as ragtime along with music from church made her unique and widened her influence in the music industry. To some, she has been called the “Mother of Gospel.”


“Prodigal Son” by The Heavenly Gospel singers is arranged in a quartet style of performance. Each singer has an assigned range and part of the song, with the deeper voiced singers, the bass singers, keeping the tempo and much of the background for the soprano singers to sing the lyrics. This Gospel music implements Quartet singing with spirituals and gospel music, making it a great example for the 1930s. 


In the Jubalaires’ performance of “Noah,” they are performing in a quartet with a lead singer. There is a band with them so it is not a capella, but the bass singers do hold down a rhythm and give the lead singers something to rely on. This song’s lyrics recall the story of Noah’s Ark from the bible, adding to the religious element of the Gospel music.


The Ward Singers’ performance of “This Little Light of Mine” includes a main singer with a chorus behind her, like many Gospel songs of this period and periods following. It is call and response in some sections of the song as well, and the chorus and the lead singer bounce off of each other and finish each others’ sentences.


The Fairfield Four’s performance of “Bells are Tolling” begins slow, and then the percussion comes in and the chorus and lead singer begin to sing faster along with a tambourine. This begins to sound like the Gospel music I am used to hearing in Church services, meaning this decade nears what I consider “modern” Gospel music and what would be a prime example of Gospel music in the Black church.


Donny Hathaway’s “Lord Help Me” is more of a slower Gospel song, more similar to an elegy to God rather than a praise song. In this song, Hathaway speaks to God to gain guidance and strength. The rhythm of the song and the tempo makes it feel more emotional and powerful than some of the other songs of this period.


“Lord Let Your Spirit Fall On Me” by Shirley Caesar is an upbeat song that has a choir acting as her background singers. While singing, she speaks direct to the Lord, implementing both prayer and lyrics in her song. There is also a horn section in the background, adding to the upbeat melody of the song that encourages singing along and dancing. 


In “Miracle” by the Clark Sisters, a 1990s R&B influence is very apparent in the song. The percussion and background keyboard is very similar to other R&B and pop songs of the decade, which gained this song a lot of mainstream popularity as it includes many of the elements that made songs of those genres popular. This is also another Gospel song that includes a main singer and a background choir/singers to strengthen the lyrics’ message.


Mary and Mary’s “God In Me” is different than the other songs I have put in this post. This song has Hip Hop, R&B, and Electronic elements in it. This may make this song more palatable for a wider audience, and especially younger audiences. This lyrics tell a story of a woman and her faith, which is also different than the other songs included. This song isn’t directed towards God, but rather a pride and praise filled song about embracing faith and expressing it to others. 


“Smile” by Kirk Franklin mainly includes a choir singing with ad libs from Franklin. It is an upbeat song about faith and positivity. It is not necessarily  call and response, but rather just a choral performance with Franklin in more of a background part that also feels like it is directing the choir.


“We Gon’ Be Alright” by Tye Tribbett is similar to “God in Me” by Mary and Mary in the way that it utilizes Hip Hop, R&B, and Electronic elements to become more palatable to a more mainstream audience and to engage a wider group of listeners. It also samples the chorus of “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar, a very popular song with young people of Generation Z and millennials. The lyrics also touch on many prominent social issues today, making the song even more relatable and able to be consumed.

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