Gospel music owes much of its origin to the African Americans enslaved in the American South who converted themselves into Christians. Gospel music evolved from the songs that the slaves sang when they were at work in the plantation and the protestant hymns that they sang in church. Such form of music also stemmed from the call-and-response relationship between the preachers and congregation, which is a normative factor in African American churches. One of the most notable characteristics of gospel music is that it contains lyrics that celebrate God’s love and a call for avoiding sins. A choir usually sings gospel songs in unison harmoniously, but it is not always headed by a lead singer. The songs are fervently sung with enthusiasm; they are perceived to be the spiritual inspiration for many African Americans to engage in such form of music (“Gospel Music”).
Soul jazz music matched the fervor presented by gospel music by incorporating the traditional values that communicate the climate of strong racial system and the spirit of the people during the late 1950’s. However, many soul artists believe that soul and gospel are strongly linked with each other as soul music utilizes gospel music devices, only it gives emphasis on solo vocals, which is contrary to that of gospel music often performed by choral singers. Soul music also merges both religious and secular themes. However, the interrelatedness of soul and gospel is evident through their interchangeability with each other. The only difference may occur in the concept of the musical identity of the artists. As such, the performances of soul and gospel music are the profound illustrations of the linked conceptual frameworks of both secular and music traditions (Holloway). Some of the notable artists that were instrumental in the popularization of the combination as well as crossover in gospel and soul jazz include Thomas Andrew Dorsey (gospel), Horace Timmons (soul), Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles (crossover from gospel to soul).
The emergence of both the gospel and soul music is something that reawakened the consciousness of the African American past. They are reflections of a profound era that paved way for the development of black popular music and served as an inspiration for the oneness of secular and sacred traditions.
“Gospel music.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th edition. 2008. Encyclopedia – Online
Dictionary. 12 May 2009. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/gospel_music.aspx>.
Holloway, Joseph E. Africanism in American Culture. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana
University Press, 2005