Many people think that Gospel Music is a typical southern phenomenon. The fact of the matter is, though, that the roots of Gospel Music actually date back to the 1730s in New England. It began when Rev. Jonathan Edwards (a New England preacher) started a religiously orientated revival labeled “The Great Awakening”.
The traditional, slow hymns did not work at all for Edwards’ passionate religious services and he wanted more upbeat, fast-paced hymns to better fit his messages.
His fervent style of preaching and the passionate music of the “Great Awakening” movement started to sweep all the way down the eastern U.S. seaboard right into America’s southern states. Here, African American slaves who were attending services together with their owners were surprised by the similarities between their fate and that of Moses’ people.
The African American slaves were also linking the earthly freedom with the promise of a fine afterlife, but they could only sing about Christian ideals and ethics so eventually, they turned these hymns into their own religious songs that later became known as their “Negro Spirituals”.
Hidden in many of these songs were secret codes to deliver messages of freedom and hope. For example, “Canaan” was meaning Canada, the glorious land of freedom, and “going up yonder” stood for going up north.
Harriet Tubman, the founder of the underground railroad, was named “Moses”, and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” symbolized taking the underground railroad all the way up north towards freedom. The “swinging low” of the sweet chariot symbolizes the rocking movement and rhythm of a moving train.
All through their difficult lives, slaves were using these religious songs for inspiration, inner strength, and courage. The slaves were borrowing and reworking content and music from quite a few Protestant hymns. They came up with new harmonies and melodies which resulted in what became known as Negro Spirituals, actually the first authentic American sacred music style.
Gospel Music’s origins can be found in Negro spirituals & work songs, traditional hymns, and oral narratives. Gospel Music includes songs that give testimonies of what the Lord did with a person’s life. Modern-day great Gospel examples can be found in the work of Joann Rosario and Anthony Hamilton.
Gospel songs can relate to how the Lord blessed them, about their salvation, or how they’ve been going through trials and how the Lord supported them. Gospel Music songs are generally hymn-like and usually are associated with southern US music.
You can find several kinds of Gospel Music. Gospel hymns differ from other hymns in that they deliver a different message. Other hymns could simply praise the Lord, but Gospel hymns are praising the Lord while relating to what God has done.
The main significance of the Gospel was to spread the word of Christ, who he is, and to teach the correct way to enjoy and love God for future generations. In the old testament, quite a few practices were rather superficial and Christ helps us to correct our way of having a relationship with Himself, His Father, as well as The Holy Spirit through music.
Gospel Music also tells of mankind’s salvation history through God’s Son. So the main significance of gospel music is that the songs are helping to turn us (mortal men and women) into personalities of immortality.
“Yes, Lord!” “Hallelujah!”, these are just a few of the expressions of joy that will come from audiences and singers engaged in performing and listening to Gospel Music. Blues originates from Gospel Music and so do Rock ‘n Roll, and R & B.
Apart from Native American Music, Gospel Music, and in particular Negro Spirituals and slave songs, is the actual only original form of folk music in America. Regardless of your preferred style of Gospel Music (there are three major traditions—Black Gospel, White Southern Gospel, and Negro Spirituals), the world of Gospel Music is fastly experiencing a great revival all across America.
Eventually, the Negro spirituals lead to the ecstatic singing style that originated in the Pentecostal churches of California. These developments, in turn, led to the foundation of Black Gospel Music that was heavily influenced by early jazz and blues.
In Black Gospel, the soloist or the choir will repeat and/or answer the lyrics just sung by the other party, while the soloist can improvise around the theme. Many female and male performers like the Clara Ward Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Rev. James Cleveland, Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, and many other performers, gained wide recognition and acclaim by both white and black audiences with this Black Gospel style.
White Southern Gospel Music is a style that leans heavily on bluegrass and country music and is characterized by close-harmony singing. The genre became very popular through (among other developments) the soundtrack from the feature film “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” Quite a few white musicians were drawn to folk, country, and old-timey music if they wanted to express their religion and spirituality in another way than through singing traditional Christian hymns.
Southern Gospel Music is country music that’s founded on rhythm and pedal-steel guitars and the vocal harmonies are tending towards four-part harmony singing with a baritone and a high tenor. Great examples are The Speers, Gold City, and The Happy Goodmans.
Bluegrass Gospel Music has, by its nature, many similarities to Country Gospel and it shares the same basic attitude and many of the songs. However, it usually has faster tempos, includes harmonies that are pitched lonesome and high, and intricate instrumental harmonious work. One of the best examples of Bluegrass Gospel Music groups is the Lewis Family.