Gospel music refers, broadly, to the African American Christian music that directly descended from Negro spirituals, slave songs, and traditional Christian hymns, taking concepts from traditional African music like a focus on rhythm and chorus, and call and response to evolve into its own art form distinct from other forms of music, taking on a uniquely African flavor. It was from this form of music that much of modern pop music disseminated, and many a well-known black artist, from then and now, got their start singing gospel in church.
Gospel has had to evolve over the years into a myriad of different forms. The universality of the Christian message has caused gospel to expand and, in a bit of irony, take concepts from rap, R&B, blues, rock, and jazz, the very genres it inspired in the first place. Traditional gospel is still enjoyed by the older generation, but newer and more modern forms of gospel have taken root and absorbed musical stylings from its "children". This has caused a divide among many Christian denominations, with many seeing modern gospel as becoming too secularized or "worldly", while the younger generation say that the older forms of music cannot reach the current generation, leading to an Fandom Rivalry within the gospel industry itself. That said, while more contemporary forms have found popularity even in the secular music industry, the diehards still enjoy the traditional stuff. (Conversely, music in Gospel style but with only vaguely religious content should probably be filed under Not Christian Rock.)
Like Christian Rock, this music is not simply the moral substitute. It has grown to take on a life of its own, speaking particularly to the black experience, but still reaching audiences of all kinds. And due to gospel's slow transformation, the concept of gospel has expanded to include any music, any music, no matter the style, that is still believed to adhere to the gospel message. That means that gospel music can take attributes of any of the other types of music listed on the music index page and still be considered some form of gospel. Rule of thumb, however, is that to be considered gospel music, it generally has to: A) be based on some form of "black" music (i.e. R&B or jazz) and/or B) have a black artist. That being said, with recent changes in the gospel music industry, this concept of gospel music is changing, and these two concepts are no longer as strict as it used to be.
And usage of a gospel choir is indeed common. Because, as we all know Gospel Choirs Are Just Better.
Tropes Associated with the Genre
- Crowd Song: This music was made to be sung by a large group of people.
- Gospel Choirs Are Just Better: Yes, they are. There is an entire unofficial sub-genre of gospel called Choir Music that is based around albums for gospel choirs.
- Gospel Revival Number: The moment in The Musical when "That Reminds Me of a Song..." leads in to a Gospel song. Mostly a Dead Horse Trope these days, but can be found in lots of older productions.
- God-Is-Love Songs: Par for the course. One of the most famous and most triumphant examples is the appropriately titled Love by Kirk Franklin (full remix here). In gospel we also get the opposite, "I Love God" songs such as Kirk Franklin's "I Love You Jesus". And most of them avoid unfortunate implications!
- Jesus Was Way Cool: Take your average church service and compared that to the swing and energy of the sing-along during gospel performances.
- Melismatic Vocals: Arguably, the modern-day version of this started in gospel music. If you hear a black R&B or pop artist engaging in this, more than likely they learned it singing in church. As you can probably guess, it is very popular in mainstream gospel.
- Sampled Up: Common in both gospel rap and black gospel, as is interpolation. Sometimes gospel groups directly cover songs, but change the lyrics to add Christian themes.
- Song of Prayer: Naturally enough, quite a few of the songs are addressed directly to God, in keeping with their use in Christian praise and worship.
Genres and acts
- Urban Contemporary Gospel, also called Black Gospel (and no, this does not necessarily cause unfortunate implications for anyone using the term) is the most common form of gospel music and the version you will most likely hear. Taking cues mostly from modern urban contemporary and R&B music, it has expanded its repertoire to include such things as reggae, Caribbean, and even rock music.
- Kirk Franklin: the most famous, well-respected, and highest grossing gospel artist ever. Having started his music career in 1990, he has been going strong ever since, including releasing an album which became the top selling gospel album ever released. His most famous song, and probably the biggest gospel single ever, is his single, Stomp from that same album (note, this is actually the remix), which ended up being the first gospel song to even be aired on MTV, much less get heavy rotation. (case in point, Kirk Franklin and God's Property performed "Stomp" on both All That and SoulTrain That's how big the song was).
- Fred Hammond: Second most well known gospel artist in gospel music, his popularity is not as high as it was in the 90s. His most famous song is "No Weapon".
- Donnie McClurkin: Well known in both the secular and gospel worlds, Pastor Mc Clurkin fulfills the "Triumvirate" of Gospel music staples. His most famous song is "Stand". Is somewhat infamous for his struggles with homosexuality, which he says stems from childhood sexual abuse.
- Sounds of Blackness: The granddaddy of Black Gospel, the first gospel group to mix modern R&B with gospel music, they were the group to first cross over to the mainstream, and they were the ones many expected to get on MTV first. Can be considered part of the gospel sub-type "Choir Music" Became well known in the early 90s for mixing New Jack swing in their music. Took a while to find a company willing to release their music, because of their unique mixture of Christian music and modern R&B. Abandoned the New Jack swing by the mid-90s when it became played out. Their next album took on a more urban tone, but it was also the last album that got the group any kind of notoriety.
- Mary Mary: The most famous gospel Girl Group today. They even have their own reality show! And yes, they are sisters, no they are not named "Mary", and yes they just happened to marry two different men named Campbell. Most famous songs are "Shackles" and "God In Me"
- Marvin Sapp: His song "Never Would Have Made It" topped the gospel charts for 46 weeks.
- Rev. Milton Brunson and The Thompson Community Singers: Possibly the oldest performing choir, and possibly the oldest possible performing music group in the United States (they have existed and performed non-stop for at least 50 years). Became famous in the late 80s through the 90s for mixing jazz influences and live bands with their music, leading to their most famous song, "Shout".
- Gospel Rap, also called Holy Hip Hop, a form of gospel that evolved in the 90s alongside Black Gospel. Currently rising in popularity and making inroads in the more secular rap scene as an alternate to the controversial and popular forms of rap music.
- Lecrae: Currently, the biggest name in Gospel Rap. Well known for finding great cross genre success. He is well known for songs that speak about God in a a real world context and sometimes just focusing on more conscious hip hop. One also has to consider that Lecrae doesn't consider himself a gospel rapper,per se, but a rapper who raps the Gospel.
- KJ-52: One of the most well-known rappers in the industry and one that has been going strong for a long time. Well known for his song "Dear Slim", which was a song he was writing to Slim Shady Apparently, people got the idea that this was meant to be a diss, instead of an outreach song, leading to backlash from Eminem fans. To allay this belief, KJ wrote a follow-up, "Dear Slim Pt. 2". Not sure whether Eminem ever really heard either one, though apparently the first song was given to Eminem at the Video Music Awards.
- B.B. Jay: A gospel rapper who gained a lot of notoriety for sounding a lot like the Notorious B.I.G.
- Canton Jones: Not really a rapper, so much as a singer who does highly syncopated singing.
- Southern Gospel is a notable offshoot which arose in the Southeastern U.S. Much like Big Band was to Jazz, Southern Gospel is a somewhat more formal hybrid of traditional Protestant worship music with the energy and syncopated rhythms of Gospel, which found appeal in predominantly white Evangelical audiences. Southern Gospel generally eschews the large choir, with groups being mostly four-man quartets or male-female (often husband and wife) duos.
List of Gospel musicians or artists who performed gospel songs or individual albums with gospel music.
- The Blind Boys Of Alabama
- The Carter Family
- Johnny Cash
- Ray Charles
- Alive (Their first Christian album, excluding the songs "The Love Of A Man" and "Find Me")
- Otis Clay
- Sam Cooke
- The Dixie Hummingbirds
- Thomas A. Dorsey
- Bob Dylan: From the late 1970s on
- Slow Train Coming (1979)
- Rebecca Ferguson (Not to be confused by the actress of the same name.)
- The Fisk Jubilee Singers
- Tennessee Ernie Ford
- Aretha Franklin
- Kirk Franklin
- Al Green
- Lauryn Hill
- Mahalia Jackson
- Blind Willie Johnson
- Gladys Knight and the Pips
- Patti LaBelle
- Lead Belly
- Little Richard
- The Oak Ridge Boys
- Dolly Parton
- Elvis Presley: Elvis adored gospel so much that he actually wanted to record more albums in this style instead.
- Elvis (NBC TV Special) (1968) (has a medley of three gospel songs)
- Charley Pride
- Sam & Dave
- serpentwithfeet: (this but also, Classical Music, Neo Soul and Alternative R&B)
- Snoop Dogg, believe it or not, with Bible of Love (a 2018 double album)
- The Staple Singers
- The Statler Brothers
- Dionne Warwick
- Hank Williams
- Michelle Williams
- Zeal & Ardor mixes this with numerous other styles, including Blues and Black Metal... no, seriously.note