How Gospel Music Changed in the 1950s

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

The 1950s saw a major shift in the sound of gospel music. This was due in large part to the influence of secular music on gospel artists.


Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace.

The development of gospel music can be traced back to the early 17th century with the advent of Negro spirituals. These songs were originally developed by African Americans in the United States during the period of slavery. Slaves would sing these songs while they worked or while they were in church. In time, these spirituals became more well-known and began to be sung by people of all races.

During the mass Christian conversion of the 18th and 19th centuries, many blacks converted to Christianity and began to sing gospel music in their churches. This type of music was often accompanied by clapping, dancing, and shouted “amens.” As time went on, more blacks began to form their own gospel singing groups, which led to the development of different musical styles within the genre.

One of the most significant changes in gospel music occurred in the 1950s with the rise of artists such as Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland. Jackson was one of the first black gospel singers to achieve widespread popularity. Her emotive style helped to redefine what was possible within the genre. Cleveland was also instrumental in helping to shape Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) through his work with The Staple Singers and The Caravans.

The influence of these artists can still be felt today in modern gospel singers such as Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams. Franklin has helped to merge elements of hip-hop and R&B into traditional gospel sounds, while Adams has continued to build on Jackson’s legacy by bringing a soulful sensibility to her performances.

The Birth of Rock and Roll

Gospel music has changed a lot since it was first created in the 18th century. In the 1950s, a new style of gospel music called “rock and roll” was created. This new style of music was influenced by secular music, such as rhythm and blues. Rock and roll gospel music became very popular in the United States.

Elvis Presley and the Birth of Rock and Roll

In the early 1950s, a new type of music was born: rock and roll. This new genre combined elements of blues, country, jazz, and rhythm and blues to create a sound that was both unique and exciting. One of the most important figures in the development of rock and roll was Elvis Presley.

Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935, Elvis grew up listening to both black and white musical influences. He was especially drawn to the music of African American performers such as B.B. King and Fats Domino. In 1954, at the age of nineteen, Elvis recorded his first single, “That’s All Right,” with Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. The record was a hit with both black and white audiences, and it helped to launch Elvis’s career as a rock and roll star.

Elvis’s success had a profound impact on the music industry. His records were played on radio stations across the country, and his charismatic stage presence helped to make him one of the most popular performers of his time. Elvis’s influence can still be heard in today’s rock and roll music.

The Impact of Rock and Roll on Gospel Music

The genre of Gospel music has undergone a number of changes since its inception in the late 19th century. One of the most significant changes occurred in the 1950s with the rise of Rock and Roll. Gospel music was forever changed by this new style of music, which blended elements of blues, country, and rhythm and blues.

This new sound had a profound impact on the way Gospel music was performed and composed. For example, artists began to use electric guitars, drums, and other instruments that were not traditionally used in Gospel music. The use of these instruments gave Gospel music a more contemporary sound that was appealing to a wider range of people.

In addition to changing the sound of Gospel music, Rock and Roll also changed the lyrics. Artists began to write about personal experiences and emotions instead of only focusing on religious themes. This shift in lyrical content made Gospel music more relatable to people who might not have been exposed to it before.

The birth of Rock and Roll had a huge impact on the world of Gospel music. The new style of music helped to broaden the appeal of Gospel music and make it more accessible to people from all walks of life.

The Civil Rights Movement

In the 1950s, gospel music began to change with the times. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and gospel artists began to reflect the changes happening in society. This resulted in gospel music that was more sociallyconscious and political. This new type of gospel music helped to inspire the Civil Rights Movement and bring about change.

The Impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Gospel Music

The Civil Rights Movement had a profound impact on gospel music. African American spirituals, which were the foundation of early gospel music, began to be influenced by the sounds of blues, jazz, and R&B. This new sound became known as “soul” or “black gospel” and was popularized by artists such as Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and the Staples Singers.

Gospel music also began to take on a more political message during the Civil Rights Movement. Artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez wrote protest songs that were inspired by the events of the time. Gospel artists like Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin also began to integrate elements of soul and R&B into their music, furthering the genre’s popularity with young people.

The Civil Rights Movement had a profound impact on both the sound and the message of gospel music. This new sound helped to spread the genre’s popularity beyond the church walls and into the mainstream consciousness.


Gospel music has undeniably changed since the 1950s due to the introduction of new styles and influences. While some may argue that this change has been negative, it is important to remember that Gospel music is still popular today and continues to evolve. At its core, Gospel music is about spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and bringing people together. Whether it sounds like traditional hymns or contemporary pop, Gospel music will continue to be an important part of the Christian faith for years to come.

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