Gospel Essentials

Gospel Essentials

It was in the 1920s and ’30s that Chicago composer Thomas A. Dorsey—widely considered the Father of Gospel Music—invented a new style of Christian music that combined the good news of the New Testament with the intensity of the blues. Not only did Dorsey’s sound spread to Black churches across the U.S., it also spawned a truly diverse tradition full of jubilee-style ensembles, vocal quartets, mass choirs, and, since the late ’70s, contemporary artists dropping God-praising jams as smooth as anything on R&B radio. Uniting these styles are several core qualities. Ecstatic emotion is essential, as are themes of uplift and liberation. Then there’s the centrality of the human voice and its ability to communicate the power of the Holy Spirit. Gospel has produced some of the most inspired singing in the history of American music, maybe none more so than its lineage of bigger-than-life female leads. Legends like Shirley Caesar, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and Mavis Staples all have roots in the church, and the fact that they're revered far beyond the gospel community serves as a testament to the universal impact of this music.

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