Urban Contemporary Gospel

is perhaps the most commercial variation of Gospel music. It modernizes traditional Gospel by building on it, rather than just rehashing its hallmark elements. With its modern R&B influences, stunt-singing vocal style and smoothly-paced rhythm tracks, Urban/Contemporary Gospel often sounds sleek. Several artists in this style reached broad audiences in the 1990s, most notably the Winans (the de facto First Family of '90s Gospel) and Kirk Franklin, whose hip patchwork of styles redefined the way Gospel is perceived.

Modern Urban Gospel

Younger audiences of gospel music are attracted to music with rhythm and a groove and an urban contemporary sound. Gospel singers and siblings, BeBe (Benjamin) and CeCe (Priscilla) Winans and groups like Take 6 delivered music to their taste one album after another. Modern gospel songs are written in the subgenre of either praise or worship. The former being faster in tempo, stronger and louder, the latter being slower in tempo and more subtle so the message may be taken in.

Shirley Caesar replies, "God uses any kind of vehicle. He chooses to draw men unto Him," Caesar said. "What has kept me going is that I try to sing about current events: drugs, black on black crime, a lot of hurting women who have been abused, young girls who have had children out of wedlock. I want to let them know about Jesus so that they might just get up and straighten out their lives."

Gospel artists, who had been influenced by pop music trends for years, had a major influence on early rhythm and blues artists, particularly the "bird groups" such as the Orioles, the Ravens and the Flamingos, who applied gospel quartets' a cappella techniques to pop songs in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. Individual gospel artists, such as Sam Cooke, and secular artists who borrowed heavily from gospel, such as Ray Charles, James Brown, and James Booker, had an even greater impact later in the 1950s, helping to create soul music by bringing even more gospel to rhythm and blues. Elvis Presley was less known for his gospel but he was a gospel artist. His gospel favorites were "Why me Lord," How Great Thou Art, and "You'll never walk alone."

Many of the most prominent soul artists, such as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett and Al Green, had roots in the church and gospel music and brought with them much of the vocal styles of artists such as Clara Ward and Julius Cheeks. During the 70's artist like Edwin Hawkins with the 1969 hit "Oh Happy Day", and Andre Crouch's hit "Take me Back" were big inspirations on gospel music. Secular songwriters often appropriated gospel songs, such as the Pilgrim Travelers' song "I've Got A New Home," or the Doc Pomus song Ray Charles turned into a hit "Lonely Avenue," or "Stand By Me," which Ben E. King and Leiber and Stoller adapted from a well-known gospel song, or Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get A Witness," which reworks traditional gospel catchphrases. In other cases secular musicians did the opposite, attaching phrases and titles from the gospel tradition to secular songs to create soul hits such as "Come See About Me" for the Supremes and "99 1/2 Won't Do" for Wilson Pickett.

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.