Too Close to Heaven: The History of Gospel Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Too Close to Heaven is a comprehensive history of gospel music, from its origins in the African-American church to its modern manifestations.

Origins of Gospel Music

Gospel music is a type of Christian music that is based on the Bible. It is usually sung by a choir or soloist, but it can also be danced to. Gospel music has its origins in the African-American church, and it is one of the most popular genres of music in the United States.

Origins in African-American Spirituals

The origins of gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century with the African-American spirituals. These spirituals were originallysung by slaves in the fields as a form of work songs. But as time passed, these work songs began to be sung in churches, and they eventually became known as gospel music.

Gospel music did not gain widespread popularity until the early 20th century when it was discovered by the mainstream music industry. At that time, many famous gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Thomas Dorsey emerged on the scene. These singers helped to make gospel music more popular than ever before.

Today, gospel music is enjoyed by people of all races and religions all over the world. It is truly a universal language that has the power to bring people together.

The Influence of European Hymns

The influence of European hymns can be seen in the development of gospel music. In the early days of the church, music was sung in Latin, which was the language of the church. However, as time went on and the church began to move into different parts of the world, people began to sing hymns in their own languages. This led to the development of different styles of gospel music, including American gospel and African-American gospel.

European hymns were also influential in the development of gospel music. Many of these hymns were based on popular folk tunes, and they often had simple, catchy melodies that people could easily sing along to. This made them perfect for use in churches, where people needed to be able to sing together in order to worship effectively.

One of the most famous examples of a European hymn that influenced gospel music is “Amazing Grace”. This hymn was originally written by an Englishman named John Newton, and it quickly became popular among Christians around the world. The melody for “Amazing Grace” is actually based on a traditional folk tune from Scotland, and it has been adapted by many different artists over the years.

Other European hymns that have had a significant impact on gospel music include “How Great Thou Art” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. These two hymns are both based on popular melodies from Germany, and they have been recorded by numerous artists over the years.

The influence of European hymns can also be seen in the way that some gospel songs are structured. Many gospel songs follow a similar pattern to traditional hymns, with three or four verses followed by a chorus. This structure makes it easy for people to sing along with the song, and it helps to create a sense of unity among those who are singing together.

The Golden Age of Gospel Music

It was the mid 20th century and America was in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement. Gospel music was at the forefront of the African American experience, providing both a voice for the people and a message of hope. It was a time when the music was raw and soulful, when the words were spoken from the heart. This was the Golden Age of Gospel music.

The Birth of Gospel Music Radio

The first gospel music radio station was WBTM in Richmond, Virginia. It went on the air in 1927, broadcasting Sunday morning church services. The station was founded by Rev. Joseph C. Maida, who also served as its first president.

In the 1930s, several other gospel music radio stations were founded, including WLIB in New York City and WDIA in Memphis, Tennessee. WDIA became the first black-owned and -operated radio station in the United States. It went on the air in 1947 and featured a mix of music, news, and religious programming.

Gospel music continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1964, the National Association of Radio Evangelists was founded to help promote and support gospel music radio stations across the country.

Today, there are hundreds of gospel music radio stations across the United States, reaching millions of listeners every week.

The Gospel Music Boom of the 1950s and 1960s

The gospel music boom of the 1950s and 1960s was a time of great creativity and experimentation. Gospel artists began to experiment with different sounds and styles, incorporating elements of jazz, blues, and pop music into their recordings. This period saw the rise of some of gospel music’s most iconic figures, including Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, the Fairfield Four, and the Soul Stirrers. These artists would go on to influence generations of musicians and help shape the sound of gospel music for years to come.

The Contemporary Gospel Music Scene

Gospel music has been around for centuries, with its origins tracing back to the 18th century. Today, gospel music is as popular as ever, with a new generation of artists taking the genre by storm. In this article, we’ll take a look at the contemporary gospel music scene and some of the artists that are making waves.

The Influence of Hip Hop and R&B

Over the past few decades, gospel music has been increasingly influenced by secular music, particularly hip hop and R&B. This trend can be traced back to the early 1990s, when artists like Kirk Franklin and DC Talk began infusing gospel music with elements of hip hop. In more recent years, this trend has continued, with artists like Lecrae and Trip Lee incorporating rap into their gospel music. While some purists may balk at this trend, there is no denying that it has helped to make gospel music more relevant and accessible to younger audiences.

The Rise of Contemporary Christian Music

In the late 20th century, a new type of Christian music started to take shape. This new style came to be known as “contemporary Christian music” or “CCM.” CCM was a departure from the traditional sounds of gospel music, and it drew from a variety of different genres, including rock, pop, and folk.

CCM was initially popularized by groups like the Jesus Movement band Love Song and the singer-songwriter Larry Norman. Norman is often credited with being the father of CCM, and his 1972 album Only Visiting This Planet is considered one of the most important albums in the genre.

The Jesus Movement was a countercultural movement that started in the late 1960s and continued into the 1970s. It was made up of young people who were disaffected with mainstream American culture and were drawn to Jesus Christ and His message of love and peace. Many in the movement saw traditional gospel music as being too closely associated with the “establishment” church, and so they began creating their own music that would be more relevant to their lives.

CCM continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with artists like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Steve Camp, Sandi Patty, Keith Green, DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay, and MercyMe achieving crossover success in the mainstream music industry.

Today, CCM is one of the most popular genres of Christian music, and it shows no signs of slowing down. With its positive message and catchy melodies, CCM has something to offer everyone who is looking for a little inspiration in their life.

Similar Posts