Black Gospel Music - The Acculturation For Black Leadership

Link to: Mahalia Jackson – How I Got Over

It was a balmy afternoon in 63, when Dr. King stood ready to deliver his speech outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. But, first, there had to be song, a praise for the Heavenly Father, from a strong-willed and dignified woman of African American descent who began to sing lyrics untamed by social order as if a legacy of suffering flowed through her veins. What began as a soft hymn of praise slowly intensified and grew louder, as the crowd gathered there cried “Amen.” Soon after, the iconic civil rights leader would step up to the podium and say the words that still echo through the halls of freedom “I have a dream.”

It was appropriate that the Civil Rights movement of the 60s would adopt music that was deeply rooted in the history of the struggle of African American as its soundtrack, the battle cry behind which an entire generation would rise against the injustice towards a people.

The most influential gospel quartets didn’t begin with the freedom movement of the 60s, but in the 30s, when groups such as the Soul Stirrers from Texas, the Swan Silvertones from Tennessee and the Dixie Hummingbirds from South Carolina injected their version of sanctified gospel tunes and created a whole new genre of soul music. In the Tidewater community of Virginia, local groups such as Norfolk Jubilee singers and the Harmonizing Four in the 20s and 30s were applying rhythmic beats to jubilee songs, inspiring a whole new generation of gospel quartets.

This brings us to the very important question of, “where did gospel music start?”
The origins of gospel music can be traced through the academic discipline of ethno musicology, which goes back to Africa and Europe, with a 2000-year history of church music and rural traditions in folk music. Gospel music, as we know it, first began in the 19th century and had its roots in both the mass revival movement which began with Ira D Sankey and the Holiness Pentecostal movement.

During the slavery period of 1600s to 1865, because of a need to subjugate, slave owners in the US did not allow blacks to play or sing their native music, which was a call and response pattern in which the leader would sing a line and the group would answer. It is because of this ban that the Gospel style of music was created. By using African traditions of vocal harmony, rhythm and call and response, Gospel songs created by Blacks were sung in Churches, where this African American style of music could be expressed without fear of oppression or supervision from the Whites.

While the role of the Church has always remained central to those of African American descent, as more freedom was granted and a tradition of racism was slowly abolished, Gospel music was spread by once rural Blacks who were migrating to large cities in the North and South, slowing influencing other forms of music and creating what the 1917 San Francisco Newspaper music critic referred to as “Jazz” another unique genre that sprung out of Gospel music, just one of the many lavish gifts that Africa has given to the world.

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