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Notable Gospel Music Singers (US)

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  • Elvis Aron Presley (1935 - 1977)
    Elvis Aaron Presley , in the humblest of circumstances, was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillbor...
  • Cecil Blackwood (1934 - 2000)
    Cecil Blackwood joined the quartet after his brother R. W. was killed in the airplane crash in 1954. Cecil sang baritone in the quarter for 46 years. He was a crowd favorite and was known for his impec...
  • R.W. Blackwood (1921 - 1954)
    Blackwood Brothers Quartet (formed 1934) had as original members the brothers Roy BLACKWOOD (b. 1900), tenor; Doyle BLACKWOOD (b. 1908), bass; James BLACKWOOD (b. 1918), lead; and Roy's son R. W. BLACK...
  • Doyle Blackwood (1911 - 1974)
    Blackwood Brothers Quartet (formed 1934) had as original members the brothers Roy BLACKWOOD (b. 1900), tenor; Doyle BLACKWOOD (b. 1908), bass; James BLACKWOOD (b. 1918), lead; and Roy's son R. W. BLACK...
  • Roy Blackwood (1900 - 1971)
    Blackwood Brothers Quartet (formed 1934) had as original members the brothers Roy BLACKWOOD (b. 1900), tenor; Doyle BLACKWOOD (b. 1908), bass; James BLACKWOOD (b. 1918), lead; and Roy's son R. W. BLACK...

Gospel Music

Gospel music is music that is written to express either personal, spiritual or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as (in terms of the varying music styles) to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music.

Like other forms of Christian music, the creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. However, a theme of gospel music is praise, worship or thanks to God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit.

Gospel also lends some of its more modern roots to the mass revival movement (starting with Dwight L. Moody, whose musician was Ira D. Sankey) and the Holiness-Pentecostal movement.[5] Prior to the meeting of Moody and Sankey in 1870, there was an American rural/frontier history of revival and camp meeting songs, but the gospel hymn was of a different character, and it served the needs of mass revivals in the great cities.[6]

The revival movement employed popular singers and song leaders (starting with Ira Sankey) who used songs by writers such as George F. Root, P. P. Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby.[7] The first published use of the term “gospel” to describe this kind of music was apparently in the 1870s. In 1874, P. P. Bliss edited a collection titled Gospel Songs, and in 1875 P. P. Bliss and Ira Sankey issued Gospel Hymns, no’s. 1 to 6, an extension of the 1874 Gospel Songs.[8] Sankey and Bliss’s collection can be found in many libraries today.

The popularity of revival singers and the openness of rural churches to this type of music (in spite of its initial use in city revivals) led to the late 19th and early 20th century establishment of gospel music publishing houses such as those of Homer Rodeheaver, E. O. Excell, Charlie Tillman, and Charles Tindley. These publishers were in the market for large quantities of new music, providing an outlet for the creative work of many songwriters and composers[9]

The holiness-Pentecostal movement, or sanctified movement, appealed to people who were not attuned to sophisticated church music, and holiness worship has used any type of instrumentation that congregation members might bring in, from tambourines to electric guitars. Pentecostal churches readily adopted and contributed to the gospel music publications of the early 20th century. Late 20th century musicians such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mahalia Jackson, Andrae Crouch, and the Blackwood Brothers either were raised in a Pentecostal environment, or have acknowledged the influence of that tradition.[10]

The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music, and James D. Vaughan used radio as an integral part of his business model, which also included traveling quartets to publicize the gospel music books he published several times a year.[11] Virgil O. Stamps and Jesse R. Baxter studied Vaughan’s business model and by the late 1920s were running a heavy competition for Vaughan.[12] The 1920s also saw the marketing of gospel records by groups such as the Carter Family.

The first person to introduce the ragtime influence to gospel accompaniment as well as to play the piano on a gospel recording was Ms. Arizona Dranes.[13]

In African-American music, gospel quartets developed an a cappella style following the earlier success of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The 1930s saw the Fairfield Four, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Five Blind Boys, the Swan Silvertones, the Charioteers, and the Golden Gate Quartet. Racism divided the nation, and these groups were best known in the African-American community, but some in the white community began to follow them.[14] In addition to these high profile quartets, there were many black gospel musicians performing in the 1920s and 30s.

In the 1930s, in Chicago, Thomas A. Dorsey (best known as author of the song, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"), who had spent the 1920s writing secular music, turned full time to gospel music, established a publishing house, and invented the black gospel style of piano music.[15] He had many trials in his life that he overcame concerning his health and his wife died. He dedicated all of his musical talent to the service of the LORD. Thomas gained knowledge of his religion from his father who was a Baptist minister and took up on piano from his mother who was his teacher. He started working with lack blues pianist when they moved to Atlanta.[16] It has been said that 1930 was the year when modern gospel music began, because the National Baptist Convention first publicly endorsed the music at its 1930 meeting.[17] Dorsey was responsible for developing the musical careers of many African-American artists, such as Mahalia Jackson.[18]

Meanwhile, the radio continued to develop an audience for gospel music, a fact that was commemorated in Albert E. Brumley's 1937 song, "Turn Your Radio On" (which is still being published in gospel song books). In 1972, a recording of "Turn Your Radio On" by the Lewis Family was nominated for "Gospel Song of the Year" in the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards.

Following the Second World War, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate.[20] In 1950, black gospel was featured at Carnegie Hall when Joe Bostic produced the Negro Gospel and Religious Music Festival. He repeated it the next year with an expanded list of performing artists, and in 1959 moved to Madison Square Garden.[21] Today, black gospel and white gospel are distinct genres, with distinct audiences. In white gospel, there is a large Gospel Music Association and a Gospel Music Hall of Fame, which includes a few black artists, such as Mahalia Jackson, but which ignores most black artists.[22] In the black community, James Cleveland established the Gospel Music Workshop of America in 1969.