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Around four hundred years ago secular music did not exist in the African tradition. African music was naturally sacred (Hymns & Psalms) and represented four areas in the Africans daily lives: 1) religious; 2) agricultural; 3) sexual and fertility; and 4) hunting and war.


A predominant style of music brought to America by slaves (1600s  1885) was call and response. Due to fear and the need to subjugate, American slaves assimilated and created a new style of music to suit the new land. Many slaves working the plantations used work songs called, field hollers.


The lyrics of Negro spirituals were directly associated with the lives of their authors, slaves. Spiritual work songs which dealt only with their daily lives, were inspired by the message of Jesus Christ and his Good News (Gospel) of the Bible, You can be saved. This differed from Hymns and Psalms, because they were a way of sharing the condition of being a slave.


Many slaves attempted to run to a free country, which they called my home or Sweet Canaan, the Promised Land. This country was on the Northern side of the Ohio River, that they called Jordan.


Gospel music began in the South and then spread throughout America. Beginning with minstrel shows (late 1800s) then vaudeville and sheet music (early 1900s) and ultimately records (early 1920s). The most significant influence of secular music for Blacks was the blues (late 1800s). The blues gave birth to ragtime and jazz.

Thomas Dorsey, considered by many to be the Father of Gospel Music, was the first Black man to own a music publishing company in America and the first major Black promoter of A-list Gospel artists. A few Gospel legends inspired by Dorsey included Clara Ward, Willie Mae Ford Smith, Mahalia Jackson, and Rev. James Cleveland.


From its roots through many legends, to the modern sounds, it is evident that the Legacy of Gospel Music has patterned the popular forms of Americans music history.


1619-1819        Spirituals (Slaves moaned and cried for freedom from the bondage of



1807-1810        Dr. Watts Meters (Overlapped both the era of slavery and freedom) 


1905-1925        Pre Gospel (Gospel hymns such as "Beams of Heaven"; the debut of

                         Gospel Hymn books such as the "Gospel Pearl") 


1930-1945        Traditional Gospel known as the Dorsey era but Sallie Martin, Joe May,

                         Mahalia Jackson, Roberta Martin, Albertina Walker, Inez Andrews,

                         quartets and hundreds of others shared in the wealth of material of the



1945-1960        Gospel (Heyday of Gospel groups and composers.)


1945-1961        All of the above and others such as James Cleveland, The Blind Boys

                         and Thurston Frazier. 


1960                 Contemporary Gospel (Edwin Hawkins era, but Andrea Crouch, James

                         Cleveland, Richard Smallwood, The Clark Singers, Shirley Caesar and

                         others make contributions to the era. The music of any era is considered

                         to be contemporary. 


1970-1990        Major choirs became the icons of the day. Florida Mass, Mississippi

                         Mass, Los Angeles Gospel Messengers, Keith Pringles, The Voices of

                         Watts, Dr. Margaret Douroux, Donald Vails and the Choraleers, Rev. Clay

                         Evans and the Fellowship Choir, Take 6, Thomas Whitfield & Company,

                         Gospel Music Workshop of America,  The Winans


1990-new mill.  Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Byron Cage, Richard Smallwood, Calvin

                         Rhone, Fred Hammond, Kurt Carr, Brent Jones and the PT Mob, Tye

                         Tribbett, and Marvin Sapp  

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