Black Gospel Music Legends You Need to Know

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


In this blog post, we’ll introduce you to some of the most influential black gospel music legends of all time. You’ll learn about their lives, their music, and why they’re so important to the genre.

The origins of black gospel music

Black gospel music is a genre of American music that is rooted in the African-American religious experience and is one of the earliest forms of black American music. The genre developed in the 1930s from spirituals, work songs, and blues.

The influence of the African-American church

The African-American church has historically been a major source of musical inspiration for black gospel music. The call-and-response gospel singing style, in which a soloist is accompanied by a choir or congregation singing improvised parts, can be traced back to the mid-1700s, when it was first used in the African-American churches of the southern United States.

One of the earliest and most influential figures in black gospel music was Thomas A. Dorsey, who was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, in 1899. Dorsey’s parents were both ministers, and he began playing the piano in their church when he was just a child. As a young man, Dorsey became a gospel singer and songwriter, and he eventually wrote more than 400 songs, including “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “Peace in the Valley.”

Dorsey’s work had a major impact on the development of black gospel music, and he is often credited with creating the genre. However, Dorsey was not the only important figure in its history. Other important pioneers include James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy.

The influence of blues and jazz

The blues and jazz were both huge influences on the development of black gospel music. The soulful, emotive sound of the blues served as a template for many of the early gospel performers, while the swinging, horn-driven sound of jazz helped to fuel the infectious energy of gospel music.

Several early gospel performers began their careers as blues and jazz musicians, including Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and James Cleveland. These artists took the fundamental elements of these genres and infuse them with a message of hope and spiritual connection. As a result, they created a new sound that would come to define black gospel music.

The pioneers of black gospel music

Black gospel music is a genre of music that is rooted in the solo and ensemble traditions of the African-American church. The genre has its origins in the music of the early African-American spirituals and work songs. Black gospel music legend Mahalia Jackson is credited with helping to popularize the genre with her recordings of spirituals in the 1950s.

Mahalia Jackson

As one of the most influential figures in gospel music history, Mahalia Jackson’s voice and stage presence was unrivaled. She was known as the “Queen of Gospel” and had a powerful contralto vocal range that could move an entire audience. Jackson grew up singing in the choir of the Baptist church her father pastored in New Orleans, Louisiana. In her teens, she performed with a local gospel group called the Carolers and began touring with them around the country. It was during this time that she caught the attention of gospel music legend Thomas Dorsey, who invited her to join his National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses.

Jackson’s career skyrocketed from there. In 1950, she released her first album, “Songs of Faith,” which became an instant hit. She went on to release more than two dozen albums, including live recordings of some of her most famous performances, such as at the New York Town Hall in 1954 and at Harvard University in 1955. In addition to concert appearances, Jackson also made several television appearances, including on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Steve Allen Show.” She even appeared in a few Hollywood films, such as “ Something Wonderful Right Away” (1954) and “ St. Louis Blues” (1958).

Throughout her career, Jackson remained an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and used her platform to speak out against injustice. In 1963, she performed at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Two years later, she sang at his funeral after he was assassinated.

Jackson continued to record and perform until her health began to decline in the 1970s. She died in 1972 at the age of 60. Her legacy continues to live on through her music; she is considered one of the most important figures in gospel music history and has been inducted into both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

James Cleveland

Born in Chicago in 1931, James Cleveland was a giant of the gospel world, both as a singer and a respected figurehead of the genre. Cleveland’s powerful voice was as influential as it was unique, and he was one of the first gospel singers to make use of microphones and amplification in his performances. He also helped to bridge the divide between gospel and secular music, making guest appearances on shows like The Steve Allen Show and work with artists like Aretha Franklin. As the leader of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Cleveland was a key player in spreading the popularity of black gospel music around the world. He passed away in 1991, but his legacy continues to be celebrated by fans and performers alike.

Clara Ward

Clara Ward was born in Philadelphia in 1924 and was one of the first mega stars of gospel music. She was the lead singer of the Ward Singers, which was composed of her siblings Willa and George, as well as solo artist James Cleveland. The group toured with Mahalia Jackson and often performed with nationally known orchestras. Clara Ward wrote many of the group’s hit songs, including “Surely God is Able” and “How I Got Over.” The Ward Singers recorded more than 30 albums and sold millions of records. Clara Ward died in 1973, but her music continues to influence artists today.

The contemporary legends of black gospel music

There are many contemporary legends of black gospel music who are keeping the faith and inspiring audiences with their music. These artists are keeping the sound and the spirit of black gospel music alive. Some of these artists you may already know, and others you may not have heard of yet. But they all have one thing in common: they’re legends of black gospel music.

Kirk Franklin

As a youngster, Kirk Franklin learned to play piano and drums in his church. He later got his big break when he was asked to join The Family, a newly formed gospel group. The Family’s first album, Kirk Franklin and the Family, was released in 1993 and was an instant success, selling more than two million copies. It earned Franklin a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album.

Franklin’s next album, Whatcha Lookin’ 4, was released in 1996 and featured the hit single “Stomp.” The album won another Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. In 1997, Franklin released God’s Property from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation, which featured the platinum-selling single “Lean on Me” and won two Grammys—for Best Gospel Album and Best Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group.

In 2001, Franklin released The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin, followed by Hero in 2005. In 2007, he teamed up with Aaron Neville for the duet album New Birth Experience. In 2009, he released a greatest hits album entitled The Fight of My Life. His most recent release is 2013’s Hello Fear.

Kirk Franklin has won numerous awards throughout his career, including 13 Grammy Awards, 27 Stellar Awards, 11 Dove Awards, two NAACP Image Awards, and even an MTV Video Music Award. He has also been nominated for an Emmy Award and a BET Award. In addition to his musical success, Franklin is also a noted author and actor. His autobiography, Kingdom Coming: Manifesting God’s Dream for Your Life , was published in 2007. He has also appeared in such films as The fighting Temptations (2003), Not Easily Broken (2009), and Heaven Is for Real (2014).

Yolanda Adams

Yolanda Adams is an American singer, actress, record producer, radio host, and former teachings. As of September 2009, she had sold 4.5 million albums since 1991 in the United States, according to SoundScan. On December 11, 2009, Billboard magazine named her the 11th most successful artist of the 2000s decade. In 2008, Adams was ranked number 37 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Women in Music list. She has been termed The Queen of Contemporary Gospel Music and is listed as one of BET’s Gospel All-Stars. The five-time Grammy Award winning Gospel legend has carved out a legacy in music that will continue to inspire generations to come.

Fred Hammond

Fred Hammond is an American gospel singer, songwriter, bassist, and record producer. He is known for his work with the group Commissioned during the 1980s and early 1990s, and as a solo artist since 1994. He has released thirteen solo albums, as well as multiple live and compilation albums. Hammond has also appeared on numerous television shows and movies, including The Steve Harvey Show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and the feature film We Are Marshall.

Similar Posts