Let’s begin by looking at the history of gospel music
The consensus is that gospel music stems from the black oral tradition from the early seventeenth-century. The oral tradition allowed for those who could not read to participate through repetition. Cleverly they developed gospel music from hymns and sacred songs that contained call and response methods that strengthen the communities bonds. This remained the status of gospel music until the emancipation of slaves in the nineteenth-century.
The Nineteenth-century Gospel Music
The first published “gospel song” was in 1874 with a song book entitled Gospel Songs. This was a book that challenged traditional hymns because they were songs that were easy to pick up and easier to sing. These new gospel songs were helpful in the religious revivals in cities. This meant that the revival movements would employ popular singers to spread their message. The public’s positive reception to gospel music led to the establishment of gospel music publishing. This led to a growth of gospel music and an increase of creativity from songwriters and composers. In over a century, gospel music had grown from a way to teach illiterate slaves and people to an industry that aided a religious revival.
Twentieth-Century Expansion of Gospel Music
In the twentieth-century, the holiness-Pentecostal movement adopted and contributed to the previous gospel music publication. How the holiness-Pentecostal movement differed with previous movements because it appealed to those that did not follow the Europeanized version of black church music. They also brought in more instruments that congregation members brought in that contributed to the variety of gospel music. As a result, many late twentieth-century musicians were raised in a Pentecostal environment. Popular musicians were Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Blackwood Brothers. These musicians shaped mainstream music as a result and brought gospel music into popular music.
Radio in the 1920s brought about the next big explosion in gospel music. Interestingly James D. Vaughan used a radio in advertising his gospel music books with traveling quartets. This business model spread to other gospel music publishing companies further expanding the influence of gospel music. Radio also encouraged ragtime influence with the gospel accompaniment as seen with Arizona Dranes. However, the racial divide was felt in the gospel music communities. Popular groups in black communities were unknown to the white communities, although members of the white communities started to follow them. The high-profile quartets and black gospel musicians performed throughout the South during the 1920s and 1930s.
However after the Second World War, gospel music grew into performances at major venues with elaborate performances. As the attention on the gospel music grew, Joe Bostic produced the Negro Gospel and Religious Music Festival and in 1959 the festival moved to Madison Square Garden. While gospel music remains separated between black and white, the music provides a method of worship for many through music. This brings us back to the question of why gospel music is important to which there is no clear answer. The answer is in how the music helps so many.