Gospel Music from the 1980s

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Listen to the best gospel music from the 1980s. Find new artists and enjoy old favorites.

The Birth of Contemporary Gospel

The 1980s saw the birth of contemporary gospel music. This new style of gospel music incorporated elements of pop, rock, and R&B. This new sound was more appealing to young people and helped to revitalize the genre.

The Jesus Movement

The Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s brought young people back to a more basic form of Christianity. The music of the Jesus People was simple and direct, with a strong emphasis on evangelism. The Jesus Music genre developed as these young Christians sought to express their faith in a more contemporary style.

One of the most influential artists to come out of the Jesus Movement was Andraé Crouch. Crouch was a gifted singer, songwriter, and arranger, and his music helped to bridge the gap between traditional gospel and contemporary pop. His 1972 album My testimony is widely considered to be one of the earliest examples of contemporary Christian music.

Other important early figures in the genre include Larry Norman, Keith Green, and Amy Grant. Norman was an accomplished singer-songwriter who blended gospel lyrics with rock music stylings. Green was a gifted musician who wrote songs that were both deeply spiritual and highly catchy. Grant was a skilled pop vocalist whose penning of such hits as “El Shaddai” helped to bring Christian music into the mainstream.

The 1980s saw the continued rise of contemporary Christian music, with artists such as Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Steve Camp, and Sandi Patty achieving crossover success into the mainstream charts. These artists and many others helped to make Christian music an increasingly popular and respected genre.

The Gospel Music Association

In the early 1980s, a new sound was emerging in gospel music. Called contemporary gospel, this new style was a departure from the traditional sounds of gospel music. Featuring a more upbeat sound with elements of pop, R&B, and rock, contemporary gospel became very popular with both Christians and non-Christians alike.

The Gospel Music Association (GMA) was formed in 1981 to promote and support this new sound. The GMA helped to launch the careers of many artists who would go on to become household names, including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Steven Curtis Chapman.

Today, the GMA continues to promote contemporary gospel music through its annual Grammy Awards show, which celebrates the best in Christian music.

The Growth of Contemporary Gospel

Gospel music has been around since the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that it started to become more mainstream. This was due to the growth of contemporary gospel music. Contemporary gospel is a type of gospel music that is more recent and has a more modern sound. It is often more upbeat and includes elements from other genres, such as R&B, soul, and pop.

The Gospel Music Workshop of America

Formed in 1968 by James Cleveland, the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) is an annual convention held in different cities across the United States that provides a forum for performances, education, and networking opportunities for gospel music professionals. The GMWA is credited with helping to bring contemporary gospel music to the mainstream and has been influential in the careers of many artists, including Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, and Marvin Sapp.

The Gospel Music Association

The Gospel Music Association (GMA) is a trade organization founded in 1964 that represents the interests of gospel music artists, songwriters, executives and professionals. The association is responsible for the Dove Awards, which recognize achievement in the Christian music industry. The GMA also hosts an annual convention, known as GMA Week, which draws over 3,000 attendees from more than 40 countries.

Contemporary Gospel in the 1980s

Gospel music in the 1980s was characterized by its up-tempo, positive sound. This decade saw the rise of contemporary gospel, which combined traditional gospel with elements of pop, rock, and soul. Contemporary gospel artists such as Andrae Crouch and Amy Grant found crossover success with mainstream audiences, while artists like Kirk Franklin continued to build on the sound of traditional gospel.

The Sound of Contemporary Gospel

The sound of contemporary gospel in the 1980s was marked by a return to traditional gospel sounds after the success of the Jesus Movement in the previous decade. Gospel music had become popular among young people, and artists like Andrae Crouch and Amy Grant helped to lead the way with a new sound that was both spiritual and commercial.

The early 80s saw the release of several important albums that would help to shape the sound of contemporary gospel. Crouch’s 1981 album Stand by Me was a return to form for the legendary gospel singer, and featured a combination of traditional hymns and more modern material. Amy Grant’s album Unguarded became the first Gospel album by a solo artist to go Platinum, thanks to hits like “Angels” and “El Shaddai.”

As the decade progressed, Contemporary Gospel continued to grow in popularity, with artists like BeBe and CeCe Winans becoming household names. The Winans’ 1989 album Livin’ It Up was one of the biggest hits of the decade, winning a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance.

The 80s were an important decade for Contemporary Gospel, as it cemented the genre’s place in both the spiritual and commercial realms. With its combination of traditional sounds and modern sensibilities, Contemporary Gospel continue to win over fans old and new.

The Lyrics of Contemporary Gospel

In the 1980s, Contemporary Gospel began to take on a more secular sound due to the increase in popularity of Singer/Songwriter music. The lyrics of Contemporary Gospel songs began to focus less on traditional religious themes and more on personal stories of faith and spiritual struggle. This new approach helped to make Contemporary Gospel music more relatable to a wider audience, and the genre began to gain traction with listeners who might not have previously been interested in Gospel music.

Some of the most popular Contemporary Gospel songs from the 1980s include “Oh Happy Day” by Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Swing Down, Chariot” by The Winans, and “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield. These songs and others helped to cement Contemporary Gospel as a mainstay in popular music, and the genre has continued to evolve and grow in popularity in the decades since.

The Influence of Contemporary Gospel

During the early 1980s, contemporary gospel music experienced a surge in popularity, thanks in large part to artists like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Andraé Crouch, and Sandi Patti. Often referred to as “Praise and Worship” music, this new style of religious song helped fuel the fire of the evangelical movement that was sweeping the nation. Contemporary gospel tunes were typically more upbeat and easy to sing along to than traditional hymns, making them ideal for churches that were looking to attract a younger crowd.

One of the biggest hits of the decade was “Oh Happy Day,” a gospel song that was recorded by a number of different artists including Edwin Hawkins and the Staples Singers. The song became a crossover hit, climbing to the top of the pop and R&B charts in 1969. It helped pave the way for other contemporary gospel artists to find success on secular radio stations and earned Hawkins a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance.

While Amy Grant is often credited with popularizing contemporary Christian music (CCM) among mainstream audiences, it was actually Andraé Crouch who laid the groundwork for her success. Crouch was one of the first CCM artists to crossover into the pop world when he collaborated with Elvis Presley on the 1970 Single “He Touched Me.” He went on to work with a number of other well-known musicians including Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Madonna, and Paul Simon. In addition to his work as a singer, songwriter, and producer, Crouch was also an accomplished arranger and conductor. He won seven Grammy Awards during his career and was inducted into both the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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