The Herald Bulletin

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Columns

June 14, 2014

Jim Bailey: Gospel singing has metamorphosed greatly over the years

Throughout history, religion has long been an incubator of music. From Hebrew psalms and Buddhist chants to the present-day music of Christian churches and contemporary praise singing, deep-seated feelings of one’s faith have given rise to the rhythms and modern melodies of all phases of life.

The age of classical music tended to center around the churches of Europe as composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Chopin poured out numbers that rang through the great cathedrals during the Renaissance.

Somewhat surprising, then, that the advent of 20th-century radio and television was slow to proliferate the religious music that had spawned the more popular secular music forms that have thrived in an atmosphere of media hype.

Forms such as ragtime, bebop, big band sounds and eventually rock and roll dominated the airwaves. But there seemed an unwritten rule against airing the hymns and gospel sounds that continued to proliferate in the churches and among churchgoers at auditoriums or camp meetings in search of what I call entertainment with a message.

That was to change. And ironically it was helped along by the influence of several bigger-than-life individuals who had gained their exposure in the secular world while continuing to remember their musical roots in the religious world.

Elvis Presley, for example. He grew up in the Bible-belt South, born in Tupelo, Miss., and moving to Memphis in his teens. The style that turned him into a rock-and-roll icon was developed during his growing-up years in churches as well as association with black gospel musicians. Then, when producers insisted he stick to secular music in his concerts and recordings, Elvis ignored them. He was influential enough to perform gospel numbers unabashedly, releasing gospel albums as well. Ironically, though his rock-and-roll hits dominated the pop charts, his Grammys came in the gospel field.

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