Rooted in Gospel

By Emily Brickler


It is widely acknowledged that gospel music spawned a lot of different types of music.  Many famous musicians got their love of music singing in their church choirs.


It is reported that Mick Jagger, the lead singer of The Rolling Stones, started singing at an early age in his church choir. His love of music, grounded in gospel, began with listening to the music of Little Richard.


Little Richard, one of rock and roll’s earliest and brightest musicians, got his start singing in gospel groups.  Little Richard grew up in the church of Seventh-day Adventist, where both his grandfather and uncle were preachers.  As a matter of fact, he later renounced rock and roll to become a Seventh-day Adventist preacher himself.


Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll,” attended an evangelical Pentecostal church in East Tupelo, Mississippi, where he regularly sang in the choir. His gospel roots go way back and were one of the contributing factors to his unique sound.  He later released several albums of religious music, as did the country/rock singer and songwriter Johnny Cash.  Cash got his love of music from his mother, who would sing gospel songs to him as a child.  He released an album called “My Mother’s Hymn Book.”


Lots of other popular musicians started out as gospel singers.  Marvin Gaye, the son of a church minister, cut his teeth in gospel groups. And it is well known that Aretha Franklin began her career singing solos at the New Bethel Baptist Church at the age of ten, where her father was a minister.


It’s hard to come up with a clear definition of what gospel music really is, but everyone seems to agree that it usually has some kind of religious, Christian context. Charles E. Gold, in his book “The Gospel Song: Contemporary Opinion,” says, “Essentially the gospel songs are songs of testimony, persuasion, religious exhortation, or warning.”


Gospel music usually has very dominant vocals with strong harmonies, and it is often rooted in Black traditions.  In many churches, there is often a call and response in true gospel music, and many times clapping of hands and stomping of feet creates the rhythmic accompaniment.


Whatever your definition of gospel music, it has infiltrated and influenced music for generations and will probably continue to do so as long as churches have choirs!

Art Matters is a weekly column sponsored by Leach Theatre, a division of Student Affairs, on the campus of Missouri S&T, and produced by Emily Brickler, Managing Director of the theatre and ten-year veteran teacher with a Masters of Art in Teaching from Webster University.

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