Thomas Dorsey (July 1, 1899- January 23, 1993)
Known as the ‘the Father of Gospel’ and developed early gospel music with hundreds of songs. Dorsey wrote songs that were the similar style to field songs and were sometimes known as “Dorsey’s.” He traveled across the country to organize choirs and promoted the gospel sheet music sales. Additionally, Dorsey established the first gospel publishing company as well as co-founding the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. His influence was not limited to only African American music but many white musicians. His biggest hit, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” was recorded by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, and Roy Rodgers.
Sallie Martin (November 20, 1895- June 18, 1988)
She is known as the ‘Mother of Gospel’ being the counterpoint to Thomas Dorsey. Martin gained this title by efforts to popularize the songs of Dorsey as well as her influence on other artists.After working with Dorsey and aiding his music, in 1940s she separated her business and music actions from Dorsey. Just like Dorsey, Martin would go on to co-found Martin & Morris, a publishing house that popularized gospel in the early days. Martin also founded the genre’s first official female gospel group, the Sallie Martin Singers. This group included jazz and blues great, Dinah Washington.
Mahalia Jackson (October 23, 1911- January 27, 1972)
In 1947 with the song ‘Move on up a Little Higher,’ Jackson became the first gospel artists to sell one million copies. This put gospel music’s popularityinto mainstream music. This gave her the title “the Queen of Gospel” due to her voice and being a civil rights activist. She won several Grammies for gospel music as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. This is personified when she performed “I Been ‘Burked and I Been Scorned’” before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Caravans (1947-1976)
The group is made up of a revolving roster of gospel greats such as Albertina Walker, Inez Andrews, James Cleveland, and Shirley Caesar. This group served as a launching pad for many gospel greats. The group frequently performed on TV with shows like Gospel Time and Jubilee Showcase. The group was popular from its founding but in 1966 its popularity began to wane with members leaving to pursue solo careers.
James Cleveland (December 5, 1931- February 9, 1991)
Cleveland was dubbed ‘the king of Gospel’ because of his power as a gospel musician and singer which earned him three Grammies. He is known for incorporating black gospel, modern soul, pop, and jazz in his arrangements which is still seen in modern gospel sound. A vocal injury at an early age led to him focusing on piano and composing, again which led to his unique sound. Cleveland also worked with several groups such as the Gospelaires and the Caravans. He capitalized on his success with these groups by founding the Southern California Community Choir and the Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church that grew into larger choirs.
BeBe&CeCe (1982- 1996)
As a brother and sister duo, Benjamin and Priscilla Winans are from a gospel music family of 10 children. They worked with their family in The PTL Singers which earned them their first duo album. Their duo album made them be one of the first African American artists to receive major airplay on contemporary Christian music radio stations. Also they were the second African American artists to receive the Dove Award for outstanding achievement in the Christian music industry in the group of the category.