The Evolution Of African American Gospel Music In America

4640 words - 19 pages

African American religious music is generally said to have originated from the time of slavery where Africans were brought to America to work on plantations. They were forced to adopt the language and religion of their masters, sing their songs, and in the process manifest their musical instincts in a body of songs known as the spirituals. Spirituals are often referred to as "sorrow songs" because many of them express the lamentations of Africans kidnapped from their motherland and brought to America to live a horrible life of slavery. They also represent great belief, hope, and faith for the slaves. The June 1967 edition of the Atlantic Monthly referred to Negro spirituals as the "vocal ...view middle of the document...

Gospel music, sometimes called 'jubilee' or 'new spirituals', arose around the early 1900s and is attributed to many changes within the black community. As gospel music began to expand it's boundaries, it moved from churches to schoolhouses, to new settlements, but was still confined to the rural areas of the country where singing conventions and "Sunday Night Gospel Sings" were held. At that time, traveling was limited to around three hundred miles from home, so concerts were held in cotton fields, stadiums, or any place where a large crowd could gather. Music conservatories and music publishers also played an important part in the gospel music revolution. The establishment of music and singing schools led publishing houses to gear up their presses, and turn out printed pages of music. In order to gain exposure for their songbooks, publishers invited local singers to work for them as performing artists.During the 1930s, a second stage of gospel was reached. It is referred today as the Dorsey Era. Thomas Dorsey, a singer of gospel and blues, changed the form of expression of gospel music to what we have today and is referred to as the Father of Contemporary Gospel. His songs combined shouts of praise and emotional fervor with a contemporary style that was not readily welcome in many churches throughout the United States. This was because his form of Gospel music was considered "ungodly" due to its employment of elements of secular music forms such as the blues, early jazz, and other popular idioms of the time, despite the fact that many elements of the Spiritual: sacred text, syncopation, call and response were also contained in it.C.A Tindley was actually one of the initial composers of gospel music during the first decade of the 20th century, but his songs did not gain widespread popularity among blacks until the 1920s and 1930s. Dorsey inspired by Tindley's re-workings of older revival songs, blues, and spirituals began his own songs and made up the first wave of modern gospel music during the Depression. Dorsey toured the country as a performer and lecturer and wrote about 500 gospel songs including "There Will Be Peace in the Valley" and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand." One of the strong appeals to his music was that it encouraged participation and improvisation on the part of the audience who could feel comfortable with the use of primary chords, standardized chord progression, metaphorical language, and frequent bible illusions. In "Reflections on Afro-American Music", Dorsey conveyed the universal purpose of his music: "I don't write songs for Black men or White men, or Red men, or Yellow men, or Brown men. I write songs for people, and I want all men to sing these gospel songs." Dorsey made it known that gospel music was not mainly for the black community but for everyone to share in the good news of Christianity.By the mid 1930s, the appeal of gospel music within black culture was evident. Gospel performers had their own radio programs....

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