Gospel Music Traditions You Need to Know

Gospel music is a genre with a rich history and many traditions. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the most important gospel music traditions you need to know.

Origins of Gospel Music

Gospel music is a genre of music that is rooted in the Black experience of the United States. African American gospel music is a form of Christian music that is used to give praise to God. This type of music is usually sung by a choir and is full of harmonies and spiritual lyrics.


The earliest form of gospel music was the Negro spiritual. These songs were created by enslaved Africans in the 18th and 19th centuries and were originally passed down orally. They were often hymns that were adapted to include more personal experiences of faith, as well as references to the struggles of daily life under slavery.

As slaves were converted to Christianity, they began to sing these spirituals in church. Eventually, white Churches also began incorporating them into worship services. The popularity of spirituals grew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when groups like the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Hampton Institute Quartet brought them to a wider audience through tours and recordings.

Fisk Jubilee Singers, c. 1873
The Hampton Institute Quartet, c. 1904

Work Songs

Work songs are perhaps the most easily identifiable type of gospel music, as they were originally created to, well, accompany work. The lyrics of these songs often reflect the hardships of working life, but also offer hope and positivity. In the early days of gospel music, work songs were typically sung by laborers in the fields or on plantations. These days, they can be found performed by choirs in churches or by solo artists at concerts.

One of the most famous work songs is “I’ll Overcome Someday,” which was written by African-American labor leader Cesar Chavez in 1962. The song has been covered by many artists over the years, including Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Bruce Springsteen.


Shouts are an African American musical tradition that is closely related to the call and response style of singing. This type of music is usually associated with the Pentecostal church, and it is characterized by its fast tempo and repetitive nature. Shouts usually don’t have a specific structure or form, and they often include improvised dancing and clapping.

The Golden Age of Gospel

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 First Golden Age: 1920s – 1940s

The first golden age of gospel music took place between the 1920s and 1940s. This was a time when many different genres of music were beginning to be developed, including jazz and blues. Gospel music also began to develop during this time, and it soon became one of the most popular genres in the United States.

One of the most important figures in early gospel music was Thomas A. Dorsey. Dorsey was a very talented musician and composer, and he helped to create a new style of gospel music that combined elements of blues and jazz. This new style became known as “ blues-based gospel” or “ Dorsey’s sound.”

Dorsey’s sound quickly became popular, and it had a major influence on the development of gospel music in the years that followed. Another important figure from this period is Mahalia Jackson. Jackson was a singer with a powerful voice, and she helped to popularize gospel music with her recordings and live performances.

The first golden age of gospel music came to an end in the late 1940s, but the genre continued to be popular in the years that followed. Gospel music would go on to have another golden age in the 1960s, but that is a story for another article!

The Second Golden Age: 1950s – 1970s

The Second Golden Age of Gospel music is often said to have begun in the late 1950s and continued into the 1970s. This era produced some of the most beloved and influential gospel performers of all time, including Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, Andraé Crouch, Shirley Caesar, and The Mighty Clouds of Joy.

During this time, gospel music became increasingly popular with mainstream audiences. Thanks to radio airplay and live performances at churches and other venues, gospel artists began to reach new listeners outside of the black community. In 1966, Mahalia Jackson’s live album recorded at New York’s Carnegie Hall went gold, making her the first gospel artist to achieve this feat.

The commercial success of gospel music during the Second Golden Age was also due in part to the increasing popularity of soul music. Many soul singers got their start in gospel choirs, and their crossover appeal helped to bring gospel music to a wider audience. Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder are just a few of the soul legends who got their start singing gospel.

Contemporary Gospel

Contemporary Gospel is a subgenre of Gospel music that includes music with Christian lyrics that has been composed in a pop, rock, or hip hop style. It is sometimes referred to as CCM, which stands for Contemporary Christian Music. The term “Contemporary Gospel” is used to describe various Christian music genres that have developed since the early 1990s.

The Influence of Contemporary Gospel

Contemporary Gospel is a genre of Christian music that emerged from the classic gospel sound. It is a combination of traditional gospel with elements of jazz, R&B, and pop music. It is characterized by its use of modern musical elements and slightly different lyrics from classic gospel songs.

The genre began to emerge in the early 1970s with artists such as Andraé Crouch and The Disciples. Crouch was one of the first contemporary gospel artists to gain mainstream attention and his 1971 album, Take the Message Everywhere, is often credited as the first contemporary gospel album.

Since then, contemporary gospel has become one of the most popular genres of Christian music. It has spawned subgenres such as urban contemporary gospel and rap/hip-hop influenced gospel. Contemporary gospel artists like Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Tamela Mann, and Hezekiah Walker have achieved both critical and commercial success.

The Future of Gospel Music

There is no doubt that gospel music is evolving. As the world changes, so does music. While some people may be resistant to change, the fact is that change is inevitable. The good news is that there are still plenty of traditional gospel music fans out there who appreciate the classics.

But what about the future of gospel music? What will it sound like?

Some experts predict that gospel music will continue to move towards a more pop sound. This means that we can expect to hear more elements of R&B, hip hop, and even dance in contemporary gospel songs. This move towards a more pop sound is likely to appeal to a younger audience and help keep gospel music relevant in the 21st century.

Of course, this is just one prediction. Only time will tell what the future of gospel music holds. One thing is for sure though, contemporary gospel will continue to evolve and change with the times.

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