Gospel music by definition means “good news”.  Gospel music is the primary vehicle for which spirituality and tradition have been handed down from generation to generation in the black church. It has also inspired audiences all over the world.

Gospel music with its unique mix of cultures has played an important role in American race relations yesterday, today and for the foreseeable future. Black gospel music is and was a synthesis of African-based musical idioms, traditional European Christian hymns, and came to maturity during slavery.  Southern gospel, conversely, came to grasp a portion of the beats and rhythms  of the black gospel style.  Gospel music focuses on the spiritual instead of the secular aspects of love, and contributed to greater understanding and respect between the races particularly during the Civil Rights movement.  Many millions of people around the world have been inspired by Gospel music.  It has comforted those in times of trouble, tragic circumstances. It has guided lives thorough its inspirational message, and for some directly fulfilled a personal search for God.

In recent history, at the center of the gospel music tradition is the use of a choir. The church or community choir.  Choir members can easily be distinguished from the rest of the congregation because they traditionally dressed in robes. The gospel choir music is usually arranged  in a call-and-response format.

The traditional structure and format of gospel music most notably changed in the late 1930s when Thomas A. Dorsey and Willie May Ford Smith began composing, distributing and teaching gospel music in their workshops.  Dorsey was a former jazz/blues pianist and composer who had worked with famous jazz and blues musicians.  Dorsey created a new style of gospel music called gospel blues, which transformed his style of blues and jazz with a new gospel music sound.

Thomas A. Dorsey

“Thomas Dorsey Biography.” Inspirational Christians. N.p., 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.​

The Gospel music form continued to develop and transform throughout the late 1930s. There are four distinct styles of gospel music including but not limited to, quartet style, traditional gospel, contemporary gospel, and praise and worship. The gospel quartet style consists of  a small number of male or female vocalists singing music together with well organized or “tight” harmonies.

The major difference between traditional and contemporary gospel styles.

  • Traditional Gospel: usually consists of  a basic sound designed to be sung by a choir and one or more leaders.
  • Contemporary Gospel some times places more emphasis on solo artists. More specifically, Urban/Contemporary gospel is a modern form of music that expresses a personal or a communal belief regarding spirituality, giving a spiritual alternative to mainstream secular music. Musically it follows the trends in secular urban contemporary music styles. Urban/Contemporary gospel is a more recent sub-genre of gospel music.
  • Christian or Spiritual Hip Hop is a sub-type of urban/contemporary gospel music.  Although the style developed gradually, early forms are generally dated to the 1970s, and the style was well established by the end of the 1980s.
  • Praise and Worship is a combination of both contemporary and traditional gospel styles, in that a praise leader has a small group of lead singers to help guide the congregation into singing gospel music.
  • Solo Gospel, a style of sacred singing marked by intense rhythms generated through percussive instrumental accompaniment, which holds particular resonance for this style.

Gospel music emerged from a group of small churches on the fringes of black religious life to became the most popular form of sacred music in the country along with great commercial success. With these developments came new challenges and new possibilities. As an African American religious music that enjoyed great commercial acclaim, gospel came to inhabit multiple worlds, serving as a coming together point for sacred and secular concerns and for local black communities, civil rights events as well as mainstream popular culture. As a result, gospel became a critical arena in which African Americans contemplated questions about the nature of faith, spirituality and the shape and meaning of racial identity.