Gospel Song

   American religious song type that sprang from urban revivalism after the Civil War. The term appears in a printed collection of Philip P. Bliss: Gospel Songs, A Choice Collection of Hymns {}and Tunes, New and Old, for Gospel Meetings, Sunday School (1874). Such meetings consisted of preaching followed by gospel songs intended to heighten religious fervor; Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899) and Ira D. Sankey formed the first of many such teams in 1873. The format continues to the present, often broadcast by "televangelists."
   The music of gospel is rooted in older American hymnody, and southern congregations continue to sing "gospel" songs that originated in the shape-note books and periodicals. But the religious movements, including Pentecostals and the African American Holiness and Sanctified movements, have eagerly adopted elements of contemporary popular music—circus quicksteps, sentimental ballads, ragtime rhythms, blues harmonies, country instruments, etc.—so that "gospel" musical language is eclectic and changes rapidly with popular tastes. In recent decades, congregants at revival meetings often listen to gospel songs performed by famous soloists, small ensembles, or choirs, and in other respects gospel has become thoroughly commercialized, so that the sacred quality of modern gospel is no longer musical but depends upon lyrics and context. The African American tradition of gospel music ("black gospel") is quite distinct. After the Civil War, segregated urban congregations had meager means to print collections, so that their gospel songs traditionally have the hallmarks of an oral tradition: call-and-response patterns, endlessly repeated ecstatic refrains, and improvised ornamentation suited to the simple song structures. Charles Price Jones published his Jesus Only No. 1 only in 1899. After World War II, recordings of black gospel stars such as Thomas A. Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson (1911–1972) popularized the tradition so that the black gospel is the main referent of the term "gospel" today.

Historical dictionary of sacred music. . 2006.

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