Understanding Gospel Hymns

For anyone who enjoys gospel hymns, the history of gospel music dates back centuries and has a rich tradition in the African American church. While you can still find gospel music today, it has grown and changed since its humble origins.

Origins of Gospel Music

The precursor to black Gospel music was the African American spiritual. This had been songs that slaves had sung, mostly in the south during their years of slavery. However, during the late 1800s, many of the historic black churches in the south began to develop their own style of music.

These southern gospel hymns were not the traditional hymns of the white church. This style of worship songs was distinguished by fusing various styles of music into services that included spirituals, hymns, and other sacred songs. This music was sung in the church and accompanied by clapping hands and stomping feet.

Changing Styles

During the 1930s, gospel music began its rise to popularity. Songs were written by a variety of African American composers following emancipation. They focused on Biblical themes and tied them into the struggles that they faced.

During the first half of the 1900s, many African American communities migrated from their rural origins in the southern states to more urban areas. They brought their unique worship style with them. In the churches of northern cities, gospel hymns began to be a central part of their worship style.

It was also during this time that gospel music began to develop its own distinctions. There were three types of gospel music: more traditional gospel music with accompanying music, minimalist rural gospel tunes that were simple and often sung alone, and uninhibited exuberant songs that were popular in Pentecostal churches.

Leaders of the Gospel Style

Although there are many people who contributed to gospel music’s development, the most notable man is Thomas Dorsey. He is known as the father of gospel music and was an African-American son of a Baptist preacher. He had a musical education that focused on blues and jazz music. But his gospel music became known around the world and is still played today.

Establishing the Movement

Although gospel music had a rich tradition, it was often not accepted by the church in general. Gospel music challenged the establishment with its unique rhythms and tones. However, even though early artists struggled to make their work heard, Dorsey worked with other musical pioneers to form the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses.

It was only a few years later when gospel music began to be part of the mainstream movement. Aretha Franklin is probably one of the best-known gospel singers today and she helped music to be enjoyed by a wider audience. In 1969, Edwin Hawkins Singers released a recording of “O Happy Day,” a gospel anthem that was well-received.

Gospel music has humble origins but it has blossomed into a complex and unique musical style that continues to be enjoyed today. Like its origins, it’s never the same and you can see multiple variations of the same song throughout the years. This brief history outlines the rich history and heritage that we can still enjoy today.

Hymns of Praise

  1. Amazing Grace
  2. How Great Thou Art
  3. Holy, Holy, Holy
  4. It is Well
  5. Great Is Thy Faithfulness
  6. Blessed Assurance
  7. To God Be The Glory
  8. Jesus Paid it All
  9. At the Cross
  10. What a Friend We Have in Jesus

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