Gospel Song

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A type of popular religious song that emerged in the U.S. during the 19th century (also called gospel hymn or gospel music). As early as 1644 the term "Gospel Musick"used as the title of a Puritan tract by Nathaniel Homeswas taken to mean the kind of popular congregational song inspired by "Not Art, but heart" (Homes's phrase). In the early 1800s gospel hymns were published in the U.S. by Seth Y. Wells (Millenial Praises, Containing a Collection of Gospel Hymns , 1813) and by John Putnam (Revival Melodies, or Songs of Zion, 1842), but it was in the last quarter of the century that the form achieved widespread acceptance in the U.S. and Great Britain as a feature of the revivalist movement dominated by Dwight L. moody (183799) and Ira D. Sankey (18401908) and continued into the 20th century in the work of such men as William A. (Billy) sunday and H.A. Rodeheaver. The name "gospel" was assigned to these songs because their texts were often directly taken from the Gospels, or dealt with the teachings of Jesus and his Church.

The gospel song is evangelical and nonsectarian, and its popularity cuts across racial boundaries. Unlike the spirituals, whose roots lay in the cotton fields and rural camp meetings, the gospel song took root in urban settings. Since its purpose is to admonish and instruct the listener, the gospel song makes judicious use of biblical texts and frequent repetition to convey its message. To appeal to its urban audience, its musical style is often patterned after familiar sounds and genres, e.g., marches, waltzes, sentimental ballads, and even jazz rhythms. While more dignified Protestant denominations regarded gospel songs as common and vulgar, they were beloved by many, especially the poor for whom the power lyrics and attractive music were their comfort and strength. From the mid-20th century onwards, the popularity of the gospel song spread to the more sophisticated churches. During the 1950s and 1960s, many professional gospel groups emerged and toured the country, leaving a lasting imprint on the musical consciousness of many churches. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, many African-American Catholic parishes started using the gospel song and forming gospel choirs. Gospel songs are prominently featured in the African-American Catholic Hymnal, Lead Me, Guide Me (Chicago: GIA, 1987), as well as the African-American Episcopal Hymnal, Lift Every Voice and Sing: An African American Hymnal (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993) and the ecumenical Black hymnal, African American Heritage Hymnal (Chicago: GIA 2001).

Bibliography: m. p. bangert, "Black Gospel and Spirituals: A Primer," Currents in Theology and Mission 16 (1989) 173179. j. j. cleveland, "A Historical Account of the Black Gospel Song," in Songs of Zion (Nashville, 1981). p. k. maultsby, Afro-American Religious Music: A Study in Musical Diversity (Springfield, Ohio 1981). j. r. hillsman, The Progress of Gospel Music: From Spirituals to Contemporary Gospel (New York 1983). c. m. hawn, "A Survey of Trends in Recent Protestant Hymnals: African-American Spirituals, Hymns, and Gospel Songs," Hymn 43 (January 1992) 2128. d. larson, "'When We All Get to Heaven': The Ecumenical Influence of the American Gospel Song," Restoration Quarterly 36 no. 3 (1994) 154172. p. k. maultsby, "The Use and Performance of Hymnody, Spirituals, and Gospels in the Black Church," The Hymnology Annual (Berrien Springs, Mich.,1992) 1126.

[a. m. garrett/eds.]