Traditional Christian gospel music is nearly as old as the Christian faith and focuses on solemnly singing hymns and songs throughout the church and in various ceremonies. Harmony is sometimes not utilized in this style, which connects it to the chanting approach popular with ancient monks. The effect of this style of gospel is to create a worshipful and thoughtful atmosphere that almost hypnotizes the congregation into a state of communion with God. African-American gospel music is focused not on chanting or solemnity but on celebrating faith exuberantly and excitingly. Singers were encouraged to put passion and excitement into their singing and to clap to the music to create a rhythmic pulse that made the ceremony more exciting and enthralling. Dancing and high levels of vocal harmony are also typical with this style, which makes a church ceremony a celebratory experience. This tradition is one that has many roots throughout history. “Gospel music first emerged from the fusion of West African musical traditions, the experiences of slavery, Christian practices, and the hardships associated with life in the American South,” notes an essay at the educational website Teach Rock. “Over time, as the influence of the African-American church grew and the Great Migration transported thousands of African Americans from the South to America’s northern industrial cities, the influence of this musical genre expanded. Ultimately, Gospel’s reach would extend well beyond the religious realm, directly affecting the world of secular music.” The direct African influence goes back to pre-slavery times and comes from religious celebrations and rites common on the continent. Many of these rituals—though they were by no means common to every element of the African experience— featured heavy drumming, passionate vocals, and wild dancing in an attempt to connect with the gods of African religion. The obvious parallel with African-American gospel makes it clear how important this style of music was on its expansion.
Chapter 1: Introduction to Gospel, R&B, and Soul Music
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