Traditional Gospel music is performed by large choirs, smaller combos and individuals. The uniting theme is that the music is written to express either personal or a communal belief, namely, offering praise or thanks to God and/or Christ. The origins of it can be traced back to a period when America allowed slavery. The African cultures were combined with Western Christianity, with one result being the emergence of the spiritual.
What most would identify today as “traditional gospel” began in the early 20th century with roots in the Blues and the “Holy Roller” churches, which offered a more enthusiastically participatory form of worship. They encouraged members to “testify,” speaking or singing spontaneously about their faith.
In the 1920s many artists worked as traveling preachers. They started making records in a style that melded traditional religious themes with the musical aspects of barrelhouse, boogie-woogie and blues.
With the popularity of the Mills Brothers around WWII, the quartet became the preferred format for the Gospel group. After the war, the spiritual emotion in the delivery was ramped up, ad-libbing during the song occurred regularly and the music began to take direction from the character of the lead vocalist with the rest of the group relegated to a supporting role.
When roots music, e.g., Folks, Blues, Spirituals enjoyed a resurgence in the late 50s, early 60s Gospel received a boost in popularity as well. In fact, Gospel had a huge influence on popular music in the 60s and 70s; Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar were award winning musicals on Broadway with best-selling soundtracks and many R&B singers got their start in the church choir. Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett and Al Green all had roots in the church and Gospel music.
My picks for Traditional Gospel:
Aretha could sing the ingredients from a candy bar wrapper and it would sound great! This was originally released as a double LP album in 1972. It was recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. The recording has been remastered and expanded.
The highlights, a wonderfully soulful rendition of Amazing Grace clocking in at 10+ minutes, Mary Don’t You Weep, with Aretha telling the story accompanied by the Southern California Community Choir along with the Queen of Soul’s moving rendition of Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend which wanders in and out of Precious Lord, Take My Hand. If you aren’t a believer you will be after listening to this recording!
Franklin won a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance for the LP and not only is it one of the biggest selling albums of her career, it’s one of the biggest selling live gospel albums of all time
Roebuck “Pops” Staples (1914–2000), the patriarch of the family, formed the group with his children Cleotha, Pervis, Yvonne and Mavis. The family began appearing in Chicago area churches in 1948. They had various recording contracts throughout the years, but enjoyed their biggest success with Stax Records in the early 70s and were part of that great Muscle Shoals sound.
The Staples family had several crossover hits on the Billboard Top 100 Singles and the R&B charts, but make no mistake about it, they were a Gospel act through and through and while this album contains a few covers, The Band’s – The Weight and Otis Redding’s – Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay the majority of the tracks are songs about improving your life and creating a positive self-image. Highlights; I’ll Take You There – The intro with the bass line and Mavis first line, “I know a place…” her sisters background singing, the horns punching, I dare you to sit still. Respect Yourself a simple melody with a powerful message, “If you don’t respect yourself, ain’t nobody going give a good cahoot”.
If you want inspirational music the library has many CDs representing lots of labels and musicians so stop by and check out the selection.