A MOMENT IN HISTORY
African American Gospel
African American Gospel music is a form of euphoric, rhythmic, spiritual music rooted in the solo and responsive church singing of the African American South. Its development coincided with -- and is germane to -- the development of rhythm and blues.
PlaylistFive recordings from Library of Congress collections
The precursor to black Gospel music is the African American spiritual, which had already been around for well over a century before Gospel music began its rise to popularity starting in the 1930s. Songs written by African American composers in the decades following emancipation that focused on biblical themes and often drew from spirituals were the source for the development of Gospel. An example is "De Gospel Cars," by the popular composer Sam Lucas.
When many African American communities migrated from rural to urban life during the first half of the twentieth century, they brought their worship culture with them. Echoing the ways of the single-room churches of the agrarian South, the storefront churches of the northern cities became the key setting for the development of Gospel.
During the 1930s, Gospel music emerged from the coalescing of three types of musical activity: a) the hymn style of Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933) a Philadelphia minister who composed hymns based on negro spirituals, adding instrumental accompaniments, improvisation and "bluesified" third and seventh intervals; b) the minimalist, solo-sung "rural Gospel" tunes that appeared as a counterpart to the rural blues; and c) the uninhibited, exuberant worship style of the Holiness-Pentecostal branch of the Christian church.
The shift from spirituals to Gospel is evident in the recordings of African American religious songs recorded in the 1930s and 1940s. The Holloway High School Quartet of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, recorded by John W. Work, III in 1941, provides an example of a traditional spiritual arranged for four-part harmony in "Old ship of Zion," The same group in the same recording session demonstrated the sound of Gospel, as they sang an updated version of an old spiritual, "Daniel saw the stone."