A World without Gospel?

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Confession: every once in a while I'll dip into a gospel church on Sunday, just to hear the choir sing. I get tingles down my spine whenever they start singing "Amazing Grace" or "Go Tell It on the Mountain," and my fantasy wedding has always included a gospel choir crooning and sashaying in white robes. Which is why I was more than a little distraught to hear that gospel music is vanishing. Sometimes you don't realize how much you cherish something until it's in danger of being lost forever. Thankfully, Robert Darden, Baylor University journalism professor and gospel guru, has launched a new project to restore black gospel music. Oh happy day!

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I love gospel music. It is a part of my everyday life. I can tell the difference in myself if I do not hear gospel everyday. I am also interested in doing films to tell the story of past gospel, blues and jazz singers. Like Mahalia jackson, ma rainey and bessie smith. We need to make them visual not only musical.

Sent by De Grisby | 3:54 PM | 10-1-2007

Congrats to Darden for this important work. Gospel's story is very multicultural. My own work as a religious historian includes what I call Borderlands Gospel Musics, in which I examine the MUTUAL impact of Black, Brown, and White musics, especially during the first decades of the pentecostal movement. You would be amazed at the cross-fertilization (both in terms of content--text--and form), and the many ways in which marginal communities of that era, African Americans, Latinos, and Okies, borrowed from each others' repertoires to sing the Lord's song in a strange land. On a personal note, my childhood memories include Sunday mornings listening to our father play lp records of Mahalia Jackson and others. I remember our barrio church's excitement at the success of the Hawkins brothers and choirs, and of Andrae Crouch. The influence remains strong in our family. My brother, who is Mexican American, is a Black Gospel announcer on a Christian radio station in Stockton, CA. His Sunday Night Joy program on Sunday evenings on KYCC fills the Central Valley airwaves with the precious sounds of this precious music. Of course, he and his White wife always stand out at the annual meetings of the Gospel Music Workshop.

Sent by Dan | 3:57 PM | 10-1-2007

I was excited to hear the segment that was done on Black Gospel Music. The National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses that Dr. Dorsey founded still meets every year. Next year they are scheduled to convene the first week of August in Chicago where Dr. Dorsey was the minister of music at the Pilgrim Baptist church for over 40 years. Hopefully writers that were around when Dorsey was still living can bring their old recordings of not only his music but other song writers from that earlier generation. Thank you for reminding us of our roots.

Sent by Carlton Smalls | 10:00 PM | 10-1-2007

The healing power of music, especially gospel music, has been experienced by many people of all colors and cultures. As a nurse working in hospitals, home health, hospice etc. frequently people request some of the old hymns, gospel music to be part of their care plan to assist in their healing weither that is as they leave this plane of exsistance or continue on their path on earth. One use to be able to hear gosple music on the radio but today most of what is heard is some one proselytizing with no music.

Sent by loretta | 10:33 PM | 10-1-2007

Thanks, as always for your wonderful programs! I particularly enjoyed this discussion on the preservation of Gospel Music.
I was curious if your guest has had any dialogue with Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. Dr. Reagon has spent her life devoted to the performance, cultivation and preservation of African American Spiritual Music. I can't imagine that your guest would not know of her work in this area, but just in case he doesn't know of her, please refer him to her website bernicejohnsonreagon.com
I think that she could be most helpful to your guest in his quest for archival Gospel music material. I salute all efforts to preserve this wonderful musical heritage. Thanks again for all you do to keep us informed.
Sincerely,
Stephanie Woods

Sent by Stephanie Woods | 2:32 AM | 10-2-2007

Contrary to the popular mythology that gospel music equals African American traditional religious music, most of what we call Gospel Music is a twentieth-century invention. It was originally launched by a group of songwriters, the foremost of whom was Thomas Dorsey, author of "Take My Hand." Dorsey was formerly a Blues singer mostly known for writing double entendre songs (that is songs whose meaning was dirty but used clean words) with his biggest hit being "Tight Like That" (the worlds did not refer to pants). The professional written Gospel songs came along with the seminary or college trained minister and the church music director who taught written music and was used in many Southern congregations to displace the earlier African American Spirituals which not sung Marian Anderson style but sung is such a strong and African manner that they were known as "Church Rocks," especially in Mississippi.

The wonder of it all is that the African American folk roots music that Gospel intended to banish from Black Southern churches conquered gospel music and Gospel became the highest form of that music with some of the greatest singers of any kind in the 20th century. The movement of quarters, trios, and other gospel singing groups particularly in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s was the highest school of singing on the planet. Gospel is the ancestor of very much R & B and is uniquely the mother and the father of Soul Music.

However, Gospel seems to be changing into a reproduction of Black secular music of various kinds. If you turn on a gospel station, only a minority of the sounds will sound like Gospel sounded like back in the 1950s, its golden age. Much of it sounds like soul or Hip Hop or other modern music.

Now, that is the way of all things. New social conditions create a new music. For sixty or seventy years it blooms and flowers. Then changing conditions change the music so thoroughly that it has become a new music. Perhaps that is just the curse of my longevity. Still, even though I am not religious, I still would love to here the original Swan Silvertones sing their souls out!

Sent by Tony Thomas | 1:58 PM | 10-2-2007

The choir directors of HBCU's should be able to mine their department coffers for considerable contributions to this effort.

Sent by Yolande Scott | 8:50 AM | 10-3-2007

Thank you for a wonderful program and especially for inviting Robert Darden. His efforts to recognize and save Black Gospel Music is an heroic effort.

Sent by Robert Flynn | 6:16 PM | 10-8-2007

This was a great program. Capturing this inspiring tradition is so important and I commend you for taking on such a difficult challenge. Other potential sources of knowledge are the gospel disc jockeys who fill the airwaves on Sunday mornings. In my own hometown, the same dj (Sam Williams, WDZZ/FM, Flint, MI) has been inspiring and educating his listeners for perhaps 50 years about black gospel music. In addition, several African American religious organizations have publishing houses (historians) that go back almost 100 years; these too maybe rich sources to preserved the legacy of gospel.

Sent by Karen Aldridge-Eason | 10:51 PM | 11-13-2007

I recently inherited a collection of 78 gospel music by mostly white vocalists. If anyone has suggestions of somewhere that might be interested in digitizing these, I'd like to hear about it. Write to me at denise-at-minilop-dot-net

Sent by Denise Hardy | 6:55 PM | 3-8-2008