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Columbia College Chicago
Gospel Music

Gospel Music

Definition of Style

The term "gospel music" refers to African-American Protestant vocal music that celebrates Christian doctrine in emotive, often dramatic ways. Vocal soloists are the best-known exponents of gospel, but vocal and choral groups of widely varying sizes have also helped to define the style. In gospel, simple melodies are heavily ornamented by blue notes, glissandi, and a dramatic use of a wide vocal range; and the form conducts an ongoing dialogue of influence with blues, jazz, pop, rap, and folk styles. Major artists associated with gospel music include Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and the Soul Stirrers. Thomas A. Dorsey is counted among the major twentieth-century composers in the form.

Musical Example

"My God is a Mighty Man". (E. Ratliff, D.C. Smith, C.C. Givens, J.C. Walker), The Southern Sons. Deep South Gospel (Alligator ALCD 2802).

Introductory Bibliography

Boyer, Horace Clarence. How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel. Photography by Lloyd Yearwood. Washington, D.C.: Elliott and Clark, 1995. Capsule biographies and histories of performing groups by an insider who is also a major scholar of gospel music.

Broughton, Viv. Black Gospel: An Illustrated History of the Gospel Sound. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 1985. Good basic history, well-illustrated, with a British slant.

Darden, Bob. People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music. New York: Continuum, 2004. A recent comprehensive history.

Heilbut, Anthony. The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times. Rev. ed. New York: Limelight Editions, 1985. Concentrates on pioneers and performers from the 1950s and 1960s.

McNeil, W. K., ed. Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music. New York: Routledge, 2005. Covers both white and black gospel music traditions.

Selected Discography

Testify! The Gospel Box (Rhino R2 75734) 3-CD box set

The Great Gospel Women (Shanachie 6005)

The Great Gospel Men (Shanachie 6004)

Jackson, Mahalia. Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns (Columbia/Legacy 47083)