Musical Expression in the African American Church: Gospel

    As we have learned, music has always been a form of expression for the Black community. It has evolved into a way we can connect over several different genres in several different ways and spaces, but one particular space has been highlighted since the early 20th century. 

Black Hymnody

    In the early 20th century, the church became a central part of the black community. Similar to the Invisible Church, it was a safe space for them to express their religious feelings freely through preaching, song, and dance. The spirituals written during enslavement continued to pass down, and over time developed into hymnals. These hymnals possessed the same structure as the spirituals, containing elements like call and response, repetition, and verses and refrains. 
   These hymns, most of which were written by Dr. Charles Albert Tindley, became the lyrical foundation of a genre that became known as Gospel

A hymn written by Tindley, “I Shall Overcome,”  adapted to be used in the Civil Rights Movement as “We Shall Overcome.” A song that reflected the feelings of the African American community as they faced Jim Crow and other broad aspects of racism in hopes that a brighter day of equality would soon emerge.

Thomas A. Dorsey and the Birth of Gospel Music

   Dorsey, who initially started his career as a blues musician, provided an evolutionary perspective of hymns and how to present them in the church. He accompanied the words of the hymns with secular music and instruments as well as self expressive movements such as clapping, stomping, and improvisation. This was not received well initially, and was seen as unrefined by many in the church community. They felt that the gospel should be spoken, not sung and that the music was a distraction from the message and the vocalist. 
However, with his persistence and the emergence of vocalists such as Mahalia Jackson, the genre has evolved and is now understood to be more than a presentation of the gospel's words, but an embodiment of the spirit and joy felt behind the belief of the Lord.
“Gospel music was different from the approved hymns and spirituals. It had a beat. Many ministers and other folks genuinely believed gospel music was wrong.”
Thomas A. Dorsey
Father of Gospel Music

Gospel Music in Present Day Churches

   Today, Gospel music has continued to evolve and has become very popular in the Christian community with artists like Tye Tribbit, Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, Tamela Mann, and so many more. It has become an accompaniment to almost all worship services, and as it was intended, it has become a way to further express feelings and gratitude for the God they serve. In many of today's gospel music you can hear the structure has remained the same as it includes improvisation, call and response, repetition, and verses and refrain. 
Similar to early Gospel, some are opposed to the continuing transition of gospel which has spread to genres like Hip Hop, and say it has been taken too far from its roots of just a vocalist and the words of the gospel. It has transitioned to possess vibrant instrumentals, strong choirs of voices, and rhythms and beats that reflect other current genres to deliver scriptures and other messages through song and praise in an ever changing world.

Present Day Gospel Music

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