Southern Gospel Music Lives On

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Southern gospel music is a genre that has a long and storied history. For many, it conjures up images of church pews and hymnals, of Sundays spent in worship. But southern gospel music is more than just a religious genre – it’s a music that has been shaped by the culture and traditions of the American South.

And while it may not be as popular as it once was, southern gospel music continues to live on through the dedicated fans and performers who keep

History of Southern Gospel Music

Origins in shape note singing

Southern Gospel music has its roots in the early days of shape note singing, which began in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1700s. Shape note singing was a way for people to sing hymns and gospel songs without being able to read music. In shape note singing, each note is represented by a different shape, so that people can sing by looking at the shapes instead of reading the notes.

Shape note singing became very popular in the early 1800s, and there were many shape note singing conventions held all over the country. These conventions were a time for people to get together and sing, and they often lasted for several days. Many of the songs that were sung at these conventions were later collected into shape note songbooks, which were used by churches all over the United States.

One of the most popular shape note songbooks was The Sacred Harp, which was first published in 1844. The Sacred Harp contains many of the songs that are still sung today by Southern Gospel groups.

Rise of the Fisk Jubilee Singers

The Fisk Jubilee Singers are an American a cappella ensemble, consisting of students at Fisk University. The first group was organized in 1871 to raise funds for college. They toured the United States and Europe and became known for their interpretations of the Negro spirituals. The original group consisted of nine students:
– George White (first soprano)
– Emma Eavenson (second soprano)
– Jennie Jackson (first alto)
– Maggie Porter (second alto)
– Moses Hogan (first tenor)
– James Hill (second tenor)
– Robert Williams (baritone)
– Andrew Cheairs (bass)

The group’s repertoire consisted of music by Stephen Foster, as well as Negro spirituals arranged by George White. TheSingers were not only praised for their exceptional vocal abilities, but also their stage presence and willingness to perform for anyone, regardless of race or social class.
TheFisk Jubilee Singers toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe between 1871 and 1878, giving more than 1,600 concerts. Their success helped finance the construction of Jubilee Hall at Fisk University, which was completed in 1876.

Key Figures in Southern Gospel Music

For close to two centuries now, southern gospel music has been a staple in the American south. Rooted in evangelical Christian faith and gospel traditions, the genre has continued to evolve and remains popular to this day. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the key figures in southern gospel music.

Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson was one of the most influential Gospel singers of all time. She was born on October 26, 1911, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her father was a Baptist deacon and her mother was a church pianist. As a child, she began singing in the local Baptist church choir.

She began her professional career in 1927, when she started touring with the Goldie Diggs Choir. In 1930, she moved to Chicago to pursue her career further. There, she sang with the Greater Grace Missionary Baptist Church choir and became friends with Thomas Dorsey, one of the pioneers of Gospel music.

In 1946, she made her first recordings for Apollo Records. These recordings brought her national attention and made her one of the most popular Gospel singers of her time. She continued to record and tour throughout her career, sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in music, including Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

Jackson passed away on January 27, 1972, at the age of 60. She left behind a legacy as one of the most influential Gospel singers of all time.

James Cleveland

James Edward Cleveland (December 5, 1931 – February 9, 1991) was an American gospel singer, musician, and music arranger. Cleveland is considered by many as the “King of Gospel Music” and was known for his rich voice and unique style of arranging. He was born in Chicago, Illinois. In 1953 he organized The Gospelaires, who sang backup for him on his first recording, “God’s Love Made Visible”. They would become one of the most popular gospel groups of all time.

Cleveland’s first hit single was “There Shall Never Be Another You”, recorded in 1955. His career took off from there, and he went on to record over 150 songs, many of which were hits on the gospel music charts. He won numerous awards and accolades over the course of his career, including five Grammy Awards. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1982.

Cleveland’s work had a significant impact on both secular and gospel music. His arrangements often featured a call-and-response between the lead singer and the choir, which became a staple of both gospel and soul music. His style also influenced many other gospel musicians, including Andraé Crouch and Mighty Clouds of Joy.

Cleveland continued to perform and record until his death in 1991. His recordings have been released posthumously, including a live album recorded shortly before his death. His work continues to influence both gospel and secular musicians today.

The Fairfield Four

The Fairfield Four is an American gospel music quartet formed in the early 1920s. The group’s origins date back to a quartet called the Jackson Jubilee Singers, which was active in the Nashville, Tennessee area in the late 19th century. The Fairfield Four achieved its greatest fame in the 1940s and 1950s with its signature bass-baritone lead vocals and close harmony arrangements. The group’s lineup has changed numerous times over the years, with only two of the original members remaining; nevertheless, the Fairfield Four has remained active and is currently touring throughout the United States.

The Fairfield Four’s sound is rooted in the African-American gospel tradition, but also incorporates elements of blues, jazz, and soul. The group has been credited with helping to shape the sound of Southern gospel music and has influenced numerous other artists, including Elvis Presley, who famously covered their song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on his 1968 album “From Elvis in Memphis.”

The Legacy of Southern Gospel Music

Southern Gospel music has been around for over a hundred years. It has its roots in the American South, and it has always been a genre that emphasizes on religious lyrics and spiritual themes. Southern Gospel music is still popular today, and it has a devoted fanbase.

Impact on other genres

Southern gospel music has had an impact on other genres, particularly country music and bluegrass. The two genres often share common themes, such as faith and redemption, and many southern gospel songs have been adopted by bluegrass and country artists. Some well-known examples include “The Unclouded Day” (recorded by both Bill Monroe and the Stamps Quartet), “Amazing Grace” (recorded by Johnny Cash, among others), “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (recorded by both the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Amy Grant), and “I’ll Fly Away” (recorded by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, among others).

Contemporary artists

There are many different types of gospel music, but southern gospel has always been a favorite among fans. This genre of music originated in the southern United States and is known for its emotional lyrics and uplifting sound.

Despite the popularity of other genres of gospel music, southern gospel continues to be popular among fans. There are many contemporary artists who are keeping the legacy of southern gospel alive. Some of these artists include The Gaither Vocal Band, The Crabb Family, and Ernie Haase & Signature Sound.

The Gaither Vocal Band is a group that was founded by Bill Gaither in the early 1980s. The group has had many different members over the years, but they have always stayed true to their roots in southern gospel music. The Gaither Vocal Band has released over 40 albums and has sold millions of copies worldwide.

The Crabb Family is another group that is keeping the legacy of southern gospel alive. The Crabb Family was founded in 1992 by brothers Jason and Adam Crabb. Since their debut album was released in 1994, the group has gone on to release 11 more albums and they have won numerous awards.

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound is a group that was founded by Ernie Haase in 2002. The group has released 10 albums and has had several number one hits on the Billboard Southern Gospel chart.

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