Gospel Music Heritage Month 2021: Celebrating the Roots of American Music

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

It’s Gospel Music Heritage Month, and we’re celebrating the roots of American music! Join us as we explore the history and impact of gospel music on our culture.

What is Gospel Music Heritage Month?

Gospel Music Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich history and culture of gospel music. This monthlong celebration was first established in 2008 by the Gospel Music Association, and it features a variety of events and activities that honor the genre and its many contributions to American music.

Gospel music has its roots in the African-American church, and it is one of the most popular genres of music in the United States. Gospel music is known for its uplifting, soulful sound, and it has influenced many other genres of music including rock, pop, R&B, and hip hop.

During Gospel Music Heritage Month, there are many opportunities to experience this powerful genre of music. There are concerts, festivals, conferences, radio shows, and more that celebrate gospel music and its impact on American culture. This is a great time to learn more about this important part of our musical heritage!

The History of Gospel Music

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 Origins of Gospel Music

Gospel music is a genre of Christian music that originated in the African-American church. The term “gospel” most commonly refers to songs composed by African-American musicians in theslave era that were based on biblical texts, typically relating to the afterlife. These spirituals were originally improvised and passed down orally, often with musical accompaniment from a banjo or fiddle.

The first published collection of these songs, titled Slave Songs of the United States, was released in 1867. It included “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which is still performed today. The early 20th century saw a rise in popularity for gospel music, thanks in part to the publication of religious songs by music publishers such aszPlantation Melodies and the rise of recording technologies that made it possible to mass-produce and distribute recordings of this music.

The golden age of gospel music is often cited as the 1940s through the 1960s, when artists such as Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and Clara Ward popularized the genre with their emotive vocal performances and soulful style. Gospel music has continued to evolve since then, incorporating elements from other genres such as R&B, jazz, and pop. Today, gospel music is enjoyed by people of all faiths around the world.

The Development of Gospel Music

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.

African American gospel music, sometimes referred to as black gospel music or Africana sacred music, is a subgenre of gospel music that is composed and performed by African Americans. It is closely related to Negro spirituals, which are also ethnically African American songs that were created during the same time period. Gospel music has been a staple of the African American church since its earliest days and has remained popular among both blacks and whites throughout the United States.

The development of gospel music can be traced back to the early 17th century when the first hymns were created by English poet Isaac Watts. Watts was a Nonconformist minister who wrote over 600 hymns, many of which are still being sung today. His most famous hymn, “Joy to the World,” was based on Psalm 98:4-9 and became a Christmas carol.

In the late 18th century, black slaves in America were introduced to Christian worship through the hymns of Watts and other English poets. Slaves would sing these hymns at work, while they were being transported from one plantation to another, and in their own homes. In time, they began creating their own songs based on their experiences with slavery and freedom. These songs would later come to be known as Negro spirituals.

One of the most popular Negro spirituals was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” This song was likely created by Wallace Willis, a Choctaw slave who worked on plantations in Mississippi in the 1830s. The song became so popular that it was adapted by white composers such as Felix Mendelssohn and George Frederick Root into choral arrangements that were performed by groups such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

In the early 20th century, a new style of gospel music emerged from African American churches in the form of hand clapping and foot stomping. This style came to be known as sanctified soul or holy blues and was popularized by artists such as Thomas A. Dorsey and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Dorsey was a jazz pianist who transitioned into writing religious songs after losing his wife and infant son in childbirth. He went on to write over 400 gospel songs including “Take My Hand Precious Lord” which Mahalia Jackson would later make famous. Tharpe was a blues singer who incorporated elements of jazz and boogie-woogie into her gospel performances resulting in a unique sound that influenced artists such as Elvis Presley and Little Richard.

In the 1940s and 1950s, several well-known gospel quartets emerged including The Fairfield Four, The Soul Stirrers, The Swan Silvertones

The Impact of Gospel Music

From its roots in the hymns and spirituals of the African-American church, gospel music has had a profound impact on American society. Stirring words and soulful sounds have lifted the spirits of generations of Americans, helping to inspirational figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Marian Anderson, as well as playing an important role in the Civil Rights Movement. Gospel music has also been integral to the development of other genres, such as blues, jazz, R&B, and rock ‘n’ roll. In honor of Gospel Music Heritage Month 2021, let’s take a look at some of the key moments in this musical genre’s rich history.

The earliest form of gospel music was known as “shout music,” a style that was created by African slaves who blended multiple musical traditions, including work songs, field hollers,Calvinist hymns, and spirituals. As slavery began to be outlawed in America in the early 19th century, black churches began to form and gospel music became an important part of worship services. In 1871, Thomas A. Dorsey — often called the “Father of Gospel Music” — was born in Villa Rica, Georgia. After a stint as a jazz musician in the 1920s and ’30s, Dorsey turned his attention to gospel music, penning such hits as “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “Peace in the Valley.” His compositions helped to bring gospel music into the mainstream and establish it as a distinct genre.

Gospel music reached new heights in the 1940s with performers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who helped to popularize a more uptempo style known as “holy blues.” In 1948, Mahalia Jackson recorded “Move On Up a Little Higher,” which went on to become one of her signature songs; Jackson would go on to become one of the most successful gospel artists of all time. That same year saw the formation of The Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama (later known simply as The Blind Boys of Alabama), who would go on to have a major impact on both gospel and secular music.

In recent years, gospel music has continued to evolve while maintaining its power to inspire listeners around the world. Artists like Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, AND Bishop Hezekiah Walker have helped bring gospel into the 21st century with their innovative sound while keeping alive the message of hope and faith that has always been at the heart of this musical genre

The Gospel Music Heritage Month Celebration

This February, join the Smithsonian Institution in celebrating Gospel Music Heritage Month. This year’s celebration will focus on the roots of American music and the contributions of gospel music to the American experience. The Smithsonian will offer a variety of events and programs throughout the month, including concerts, panel discussions, film screenings, and more.

The Gospel Music Heritage Month Concert

This year, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture are teaming up to celebrate Gospel Music Heritage Month with a special concert featuring some of the genre’s biggest stars. Scheduled for Saturday, October 10, at 8 p.m. EDT, the concert will be streamed live on the Library’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

The event will feature Grammy Award-winning artists Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar, Kirk Franklin, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Tammy Rivera, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp, and Fred Hammond. Hosted by television personality Anthony Anderson, the concert will also feature appearances by Pastor Calvin Butts III of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem; Rev. Al Sharpton; musician Questlove; and representatives from the Library and museum.

The concert is part of a wider effort to raise awareness of Gospel Music Heritage Month, which was established by Congress in 2008 to celebrate the genre’s “deeply rooted influence on all types of music in America and its impact on culture around the world.” October is also National Archives Month, making it a perfect time to explore the Library’s vast collections related to gospel music—including sheet music, recordings, photographs, and more.

The Gospel Music Heritage Month Awards

The Gospel Music Heritage Month Awards will be presented on October 18, 2021 during a free, virtual concert celebrating the best in gospel music. The awards are given in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of gospel music and are sponsored by the Gospel Music Heritage Foundation.

The Gospel Music Heritage Month Symposium

This year’s Gospel Music Heritage Month Symposium, “The Roots of American Music – A Conversation with the Legends,” will be held virtually on Saturday, February 20, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST.

Hosted by Dr. Bobby Jones, the symposium will feature an all-star lineup of music luminaries who will discuss the impact of gospel music on American culture and the world. The lineup includes:
-Dr. Bobby Jones
-Bishop Lester Love
-Rev. Timothy Wright
-Mr. Richard Smallwood
– Ms. Shirley Caesar
– Mr. Ricky Dillard
– Mr. Jonathan Butler
– Mr. Michael W. Smith

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