The term gospel is a reference to the ‘good news’ of salvation, but outside Christian circles, it is a reference to a musical style that takes its roots from African-American Christian celebrations. The style, with its fast beats and call-and-response was used for those who would share and testify at churches in the American South.
Many have claimed that Gospel’s origins can be found in the Blues and Jazz, but it is not entirely clear to what extent one genre of music influenced the other in one form or another. Some associate the origins of gospel music with people like Tommy Dorsey, who wanted to get away from traditional religious music and start singing sacred songs with what was looked on as ‘secular instruments’. At the time, Jazz music was often looked upon by some church-goers as “devil’s music”, due to its playing in illegal Prohibition bars. With some resistance from purists, Gospel music eventually got rolling, and there were several gospel singers and quartets by the forties and fifties.
By the sixties, many artists from all genres began to sing gospel songs. Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown, even Elvis Presley, have been identified as great gospel singers. Elvis and the Carter Family, who were quite influential in starting Country music, would fall under the category of white gospel. Several of these Southern gospel groups used to travel with evangelists, like Billy Graham. Some of these groups have crossed over to other genres, such as the famous Oak Ridge Boys, who went into mainstream country. The Gaither Vocal Band has also crossed over into Contemporary Christian Music, which was an offshoot of Gospel.
Recently, Screen Gems pictures introduced a film entitled The Gospel, which featured music by some of the great contemporary gospel musicians of today including Kirk Franklin, an artist who achieved pop success in the nineties with the hit song ‘Stomp’.