Gospel Music is deeply rooted in the rich traditions of many, many, churches. The term, Gospel Music, means “good news.” Gospel music is one of the vehicles through which the ideals of Christianity have spread to many audiences and churches around the world. Let’s discuss some traditional Gospel Music.

Songs, like, Give Me that Old Time Religion, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Nobody know the Trouble I’ve Seen, How I Got Over, Peace in the Valley, and Touch Me Lord Jesus, are just a few examples. These types of songs uses Biblical references and analogies of Biblical people, places, and stories. Singers compare these songs to their own history and/or from a different guided perspective.

Songs of the Underground Railroad were spiritual and work songs used during the early-to-mid 19th century in the United States to encourage and convey coded information for escaping slaves as they moved along the various Underground Railroad routes. Harriet Tubman’s CD: Underground Railroad: Escape to Freedom, describes spiritual songs with a different twist. Done strategically, with giving directions on how to escape, were known as signal songs. Where to meet in certain locations were known as map songs. For examples, Tubman used “Wade in the Water,” a map song, to tell slaves to get in the water to avoid been seen or tracked by others.

Follow the Drinking Gourd” song suggests escaping in the spring. The drinking gourd is a water dipper which is a code name for the Big Dipper, in the sky, that points to the Polar Star toward the North. This song was used as a safety measure and cautionary foresight of seasonal changes along the escape routes. These songs didn’t need an operatic voice nor music - just a tune, a sincere heart, and a grain of mustard seed faith.

Composer, American musician, and singer, Thomas A. Dorsey and others, crystalized the Gospel styles in 1932 with such songs as Precious Lord, setting the standard and presence for “call and response” style singing in which the lead singer would repeat and/or echo the declaration of lyrics being sung. The flair for this type of choir singing, lead to an emotional filled, heart pouring feeling, properly expressing the spiritual ecstasy with music. The gospel messages signaled that HELP is on the way. Dorsey speaks of his gift and calling, “I sat down at the piano and my hands began to browse over the keys. Then something happened. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I’d never heard or played before and words came into my head. Everything seemed to fall in place.”

It is worthy to say, the first generation of Gospel singers in the 20th Century worked with or were trained by Dorsey included singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Reverend James Cleveland. Anthony Heilbut, American Writer and Record Producer of gospel music, summarized Dorsey’s influence on gospel music by saying he “combined the good news of Gospel with the bad news of blues.” Dorsey was called the “Father of Gospel Music.”  

This Old Time Gospel style also used by Dorsey, is the foot stomping, hand-clapping, Holy Ghost filled, Gospel songs that were sung by our parents and grandparents down through the years. Some referred the songs to as “good ole quartet singing” with groups of four or more and when various instruments were used in the church. Let us not forget the hymns from the precious hymnal books also sung with and without music. Many hymns that we sang today in choirs were written by Dorsey.

Some musical artists makes the gradual changes of song composition for lifestyles of today. However, we must believe and keep in mind that God words never change. He is an omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God.

Singing serves many purposes, back then and now. Songs are used to provide communication, repetitive rhythm for repetitive manual work, inspiration, motivation, hope, lifting up praises and much more. All types of gospel music has been around for such a long time. Even, in the days of yesteryear and with farming today, in cotton and tobacco fields, humming a tune, could get you to the end of the row on a hot, sunny day. Gospel music and God’s word still can get us through the day. The ministry of music continues to lift our spirits in different ways.