Praise is What I Do: Comparison of Gospel Eras Through Specific Songs

Gospel music has developed and changed since the beginning. It has seen times of gigantic achievement and prominence, and times of inconvenience and disagreeability. The most noticeable highlights of gospel are its blues-like quality, exceptionally melodic lines, use of unique vocal impacts, heavily syncopated rhythms, and the accentuation of an instrument, generally piano, organ, guitar, or instrumental group. In the 1920’s Thomas Dorsey is charged with the achievement of Negro gospel music and making another gospel music kind “Gospel Blues.” He did this by consolidating the uplifting news of the gospel with the more depressing tastes of the blues (Gentry, 1969).

The inceptions of gospel music when enslaved Africans were acquainted with the Christian religion and changed over in huge numbers. Characteristics of various African societies were joined with Western Christianity, with one outcome being the rise of the profound.


In our first song “I stood On the Banks of Jordan” produced in 1963 we hear James Cleveland croon about waiting for the Lord to come and take him home to heaven. He explains he has seen God come for both his mother and father and now he too is ready. The River Jordan in biblical tradition, serves as an important geographic and symbolic boundary as well as a place for demonstrations of the Lord’s power and for baptism. In the 50’s, Reverend James Cleveland altered the sound of gospel with “big choir” sound.

So as we listen along we can hear James Cleveland lead and a mostly male choir follow his steps. The song is slow and melodic, never really catching a more upbeat flow. We can attribute that to the deep nature of the organ and heavy drums we hear. In the tune Cleveland is not scared of dying, he looks forward to the day he can see his mother again. Following the popular doctrine of “everlasting life” most black christians do not fear death because they believe God will be waiting for them on the other side and therefore everything will be alright.


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In “I Told the Storm,” our second featured song, we are brought into a era 30 years later than our first song. “I Told the Storm” is a strong melody about how we will overcome all the obstacles and difficult times in our lives. We listen as George O’ Quin and the featured Joyful Noize choir tell us no matter the storm(the many problems life can bring) whether it be a job,sickness, financial problems, infidelity, that it will not defeat us.

This song is considered contemporary gospel. Contemporary Gospel is an updated, polished version of traditional gospel. Most of the material in contemporary gospel is newly written and the gospel choir has absorbed many innovations in soul music, both visually and musically. On record, contemporary gospel often sounds similar to urban music. The song eventually leads up to a voice vs drum battle around the 3rd verse with the leading soprano boasting a beautiful voice belting out the main goal of gospel: ministering to her listeners through her vocal talents and drawing them into the arms of Christ.

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