A gospel choir is brought in, and while their music may certainly be About Itself, their appearance ultimately serves the the purpose of creating a moment that is just real, just transformative, just significant, just... better.
The character(s) of interest may be among either the performers or the spectators. It may even be an elaborate dream or fantasy sequence that a character has imagined.
It may underscore that the main character, perhaps The Grinch, HAS CHANGED. It may be used to highlight a moment of epiphany for a character who has perhaps until now lacked a sense of purpose or direction. If it is a fantasy sequence, that character might be imagining themselves as better, more centered and more true-to-self. It may stand to prove to the world that, YES, the lead singer you see in front of you, must Finally Be Noticed and/or must Finally be Taken Seriously. The audience, which may be made up of a bunch of sullen kids who think that School Is for Losers, experience a Genuine Moment Of Realness.
At any rate, it narratively underscores an Important Moment, and perhaps even aims to be a Water Cooler Moment (both for the in-story audience and for "us").
This is a very common trope in blockbuster comedies, and is also seen in a fair number of commercials and cartoons.
It is often seen on competitive singing shows, perhaps more often in the final rounds where there needs to be a showstopper. In fact, performing with a gospel choir back up on a show such as American Idol almost automatically qualifies for this trope, as it is virtually engineered to be "that" moment: a moment of Realness right there on Reality TV.
It also seems to show up a lot in musicals and 80s music videos. Here, it is often a Small Start, Big Finish, and as such: a. we can almost predict that the choir will arrive and b. we can fairly pinpoint the moment that they will.
What it is not: It does not immediately count if the gospel choir is the actual focus of the concern (except for Sister Act, which is an entire movie based on this trope). Again, they serve the narrative in one of these defined ways.
Compare and contrast with Gospel Revival Number, where the focus is more on the show-stopping music itself. This might include such "gospel-influenced" numbers as "Blow, Gabriel, Blow", "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" or "Brotherhood of Man," but it's largely considered a Dead Horse Trope (though there are some overlapping examples), due to its similarity to That Reminds Me of a Song...
Compare to Ethereal Choir, Cherubic Choir and Ominous Latin Chanting, which are tonally and textually quite different. Often a subtrope of Dramatic Choir Number and Suspiciously Apropos Music. And of course, this trope exists because it's common in actual Gospel Music.
- Star Wars Ewok Gospel (featuring Billy Dee Williams)
- Eddie Izzard has this to say about gospel music (from "Dress To Kill"):
"There's something phenomenally dreary about Christian singing. The gospel singers are the only ones that go crazy. It's amazing, and it's borne out of kidnapping, imprisonment, slavery, murder, all of that, and this joyous singing. And the Church of England, all the Christian religions, which is mainly Caucasian white people with power and money, enough to make Solomon blush, they're all singing...(Dirge-like) "O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to... ?" They're the only people that can sing hallelujah without feeling like it's a hallelujah moment. "Haaallelujah, Haaaalleeelujah Joyfully we...Lark abooouuut..." And...No, it's...It's just not kicking, is it?"
- Eminem's Chrysler Commercial, from the 2011 Super Bowl. "Imported from Detroit".
- A Progressive radio ad has Flo continually prompting her backing radio chorus to sing with more enthusiasm for a new promotion; this eventually culminates in a gospel choir.
Films — Live-Action
- Sister Act has a plot is based on turning a church choir of nuns into one of these. Significant because this represents an actual turning point for all involved. This clip from Sister Act 2 exemplifies the trope especially.
- Scrooged does not actually bring out the choir, but the ghosts appear to the Bill Murray character at the end, singing "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" in a gospel style, to signify he has "changed for the better".
- Blake Griffin's "winning" dunk in the 2011 Slam Dunk contest was a sub-par dunk that was portrayed as more special due to him dunking over the lowest part of a low to the ground car, while a choir sang in the background.
- In The Blues Brothers, the Brothers' moment of inspiration that kicks off the plot features them being sung at by James Brown and a berobed gospel choir.
- In Haiku Tunnel, the Josh Kornbluth character has a supervisor at the engineering firm building the tunnel of the title, who is a gospel singer in her spare time. He asks to hear her tape, and is blasted with soaring, striking gospel music that turns out to be hers. Now, this is done in a deadpan, tounge-in-cheek style, as there is no emotional apex, and the only moment of epiphany is that Josh is inspired to make a rather shady request to be allowed to write a novel using company time and resources, Instead of the usual "positive" turn, he has this twisted epiphany after hearing the tape, and upon realizing she might be sympathetic to "fellow artists". She does, in fact, turn out to be a Benevolent Boss and agrees to his request.
- In William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet the scenes with Father Laurence (including the wedding between the leads) are punctuated by a gospel choir. This is jarring because the rest of the movie is scored by pop music by the likes of Radiohead, Garbage, and Everclear.
- The 2009 film version of Fame ends with this, kinda, as it does not really signify much else but, "here is the last, big, final number, folks".
- in Precious, the title character, in one of her fantasy daydreams, imagines herself in a choir much more magnificent than the one she is watching rehearse at a local church.
- In the U2 film, Rattle and Hum, the band does a version of their hit, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," with a famous church choir.
- 1989's movie Polly (a Made-for-TV Movie variation of Pollyanna starring Cosby Show stars Phylicia Rashad and Keshia Knight-Pulliam) includes a song called Stand Up in which the entire church congregation starts dancing and celebrating.
- Joyful Noise uses this trope as a plot point. The main characters are singers in a local gospel choir who aspires to win a national championship.
- The Muses in Hercules. Their first number is even titled "Gospel Truth."
- "We Shall Be Free" by Garth Brooks uses a gospel arrangement for the background vocals.
- "Great Expectations" from KISS has a choir singing the refrain "you've got great expectations" near the end of the song.
- The Title Track from Like a Prayer by Madonna makes use of a gospel choir halfway through.
- "Golden Boy" by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé from their album Barcelona ends in a grand gospel finale.
- In the Strong Bad Sings and Other Type Hits version of "The Cheat is Not Dead", Strong Bad is joined by a choir of back-up singers for the second chorus and the finale ("Woah, where'd this choir come from? You guys sound great!")
- Foreigner, I Wanna Know What Love Is. Also, Mariah Carey's version
- Madonna, Music/LikeAPrayer
- Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror. Because The World Is Just Awesome.
- David Bowie, Underground.
- Natasha Bedingfield's song "Unwritten".
- Ylvis, in Massachusetts.
- R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly".
- UB40's version of "Many Rivers To Cross".
- Childish Gambino's video for "This Is America" features a robed church choir joining in the chorus— then brutally subverts the trope when Gambino grabs an assault rifle and mows them all down.
- Jon Stewart's backing vocals on Go Fuck Yourself!
- "A Night of Neglect". Rachel suddenly realizes just how good Mercedes is when she sings "Ain't No Way" by Aretha Franklin, with a gospel back-up.
- "The Power of Madonna" episode, "Like a Prayer".
- Fame had at least one episode that used this trope. Pretty sure it was the trope but in dance form.
- Frenchie Davis singing aforementioned "Like a Prayer" on NBC's The Voice.
- Jacob Lusk singing "I Believe I Can Fly" on American Idol.
- In Scrubs,
- Ellen DeGeneres explains and demonstrates on her show why the trope works.
- The Babylon 5 episode "And the Rock Cried Out 'No Hiding Place!'" features a choir singing the song of the title, while Lord Refa is being brutally killed by the Narn, as part of Londo's plan to take out the insane Emperor Cartagia and end the Shadow influence on the Centauri.
- Patti LaBelle and The Muppets on Sesame Street show us how this indeed may be a better way to learn our ABCs
- In the Community Season 3 Christmas show, the study group is getting drawn into the Glee Club one by one - Pierce hooks Shirley by bringing in a choir of angelic kids who sing about the schools not being allowed to mention Jesus. It pushes all her buttons and she passionately joins the choir.
- The Third Wheel sketch in Mr. Show has David singing about the "Third Wheel Legend", getting so into the song he walks off the stage and into the audience, eventually joined by a gospel choir.
- The most remembered moment from the short-lived 1990 ABC series Cop Rock is when the jury, in the middle of reading the verdict, transformed into a choir complete with robes and tambourines.
- An episode of Designing Women sees Charlene facing a crisis of faith which is restored watching Julia and a choir sing "How Great Thou Art".
- A sketch on The Lenny Henry Show had Lenny's impression of newsreader Trevor McDonald as the leader of a gospel choir singing the news.
- On Impractical Jokers Murr is told his punishment is being the lead role in "The Dracula Monologues" complete with a full costume and makeup. As he's getting ready to improv a play off the top of his head...a choir walks in singing and the other Jokers reveal his real punishment is joining them dressed as Dracula!
- The mid-late 80's (briefly Broadway) musical, The Gospel At Colonus, incorporated a hybrid of this and Greek Chorus.
- Both The Muppets Take the Bowl and The Muppets Take the O2 add a gospel choir to "Bohemian Rhapsody".
- The closing theme of the third Katamari Damacy game, Me and My Katamari, is the gospel-inspired "Shine! Mr. Sunshine".
- The full version of "Taiyou no Jealousy" in THE iDOLM@STER features gospel choirs in the background.
- Phineas and Ferb: Lampshaded in "Last Train to Bustville," when Candace sings the song "Give Up" (instead of inspirational, it's about her deciding to just quit), with an ever-increasing crowd of... clones of herself, in choir robes, singing backup.
- VeggieTales: Justified In the Jonah movie, as the gospel choir is made up of a bunch of angels so they show up to tell Jonah about mercy through song.
- In the Jem episode, "The Presidential Dilemma" has the song, "Freedom" which features Jem singing with a gospel choir at one point.