a brief history of blues

Blues Gospel

also called "Traditional Gospel", is a form of Black American music derived from Pentecostal church worship services and from spiritual and blues singing. Recordings of Pentecostal preachers' sermons were immensely popular among African Americans in the 1920s. Taking the scriptural direction "Let everything that breathes praise the Lord" (Psalm 150), Pentecostal churches welcomed timbrels, pianos, banjos, guitars, other stringed instruments, and even brass into their services. Choirs often featured the extremes of female vocal range in antiphonal counterpoint with the preacher's sermon. Other forms of gospel music have included the singing and acoustic guitar playing of itinerant street preachers; individual secular performers; and harmonizing male quartets, whose acts included dance routines and stylized costumes. Gospel music's principal composers and practitioners included Thomas A. Dorsey, who coined the term; the Rev. C.A. Tindley (1851 1933); the blind wandering preacher Rev. Gary Davis (1896 1972); Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915 73), whose performances took gospel into nightclubs and theatres in the 1930s; and Mahalia Jackson. Gospel music was a significant influence on rhythm and blues and soul music, which have in turn strongly influenced contemporary gospel music.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey, the "Father of Gospel Music," began using the phrase "gospel songs" in the mid-1920s, for a new kind of religious music. Gospels are songs of worship with the bounce and rhythm of early blues and jazz.

This music already had a number of champions, but Dorsey's commitment would give rise to a gospel movement in Chicago that would spread worldwide. His association with gospel music was so strong that for decades, songs in this style were simply called "Dorseys."

There is no exact starting date for Black Gospel but it started during the slave trade when the Africans were introduced to the Christian religion. They used their way of worship and praise, that they did in their native land to help them conform more to the Christian religion. Back in their homeland they sang songs, gave testimonies as a form of worship and praise to their cultural gods and deities. During slavery there were three types of Gospel music: work songs, jubilees and social Gospel. These types of Gospel is still around today. Work songs were songs the slaves would sing while working on the fields or plantation. These songs referred to slavery in the bible but at the same time had a message of hope and freedom. Jubilees are songs that are sang in the church; this type of music really shows the adaption of slaves to the regular Christian form of music of that time period. Social Gospel is music that has a social message with biblical references.

Original music (1920s 1940s)

What most people would identify today as "Gospel" began very differently 85 years ago. The Gospel music that Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, Willie Mae Ford Smith and other pioneers popularized had its roots in the more freewheeling forms of religious devotion of "Sanctified" or "Holiness" churches sometimes called "holy rollers" by other denominations who encouraged individual church members to "testify," speaking or singing spontaneously about their faith and experience of the Holy Ghost and "Getting Happy," sometimes while dancing in celebration. In the 1920s Sanctified artists, such as Arizona Dranes, many of whom were also traveling preachers, started making records in a style that melded traditional religious themes with barrelhouse, blues and boogie-woogie techniques and brought jazz instruments, such as drums and horns, into the church. It is also important to note that gospel music is not just a form of music. It is an intricate part of the religious experience for many churchgoers.

This looser style affected other black religious musical styles as well. The most popular groups in the 1930s were male quartets or small groups such as The Golden Gate Quartet, who sang, usually unaccompanied, in jubilee style, mixing careful harmonies, melodious singing, playful syncopation and sophisticated arrangements to produce a fresh, experimental style far removed from the more somber hymn-singing.

These groups also absorbed popular sounds from pop groups such as The Mills Brothers and produced songs that mixed conventional religious themes, humor and social and political commentary. They began to show more and more influence from gospel as they incorporated the new music into their repertoire.

In the 1930s gospel music of the civil rights movement was referred to as the Black Gospel period because this was the most prosperous era for gospel music. The message of many of the civil rights activist was supported by the message gospel music was putting forth.

Gospel and rhythm & blues are deeply rooted in the Sanctified church. Blues and R&B departed onto the secular world paths and then led to rock and roll. Gospel on the other hand remained on a strong spiritual path and has survived for many years. Gospel music sheds an undeniable influence on R&B and rock and roll.

Thomas Dorsey stretched the boundaries in his day to create great gospel music, choirs, and quartets. Talented vocalists have been singing these songs far beyond Dorsey's expectations. The method, dynamics and power behind the songs are different, but God's message is delivered each and every time.

Dorsey, who had once composed for and played piano behind blues giants Tampa Red, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, worked hard to develop this new music, organizing an annual convention for gospel artists, touring with Martin to sell sheet music and gradually overcoming the resistance of more conservative churches to what many of them considered sinful, worldly music. Combining the sixteen bar structure and blues modes and rhythms with religious lyrics, Dorsey's compositions opened up possibilities for innovative singers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe to apply their very individual talents to his songs, while inspiring church members to "shout" either to call out catch phrases or to add musical lines of their own in response to the singers.