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Gospel Music - The Most Influential Singers, Past & Present Gospel music dates back to the early 18th century when Americans brought back Africans to work as laborers. Part of the slaves’ indoctrination included attending worship services with their masters where obedience and reverence to their master was heavily stressed. In time, the enslaved Africans began to develop a deep abiding respect for the Christian doctrine, relying on it to withstand the harsh conditions of their daily lives. Music was one of the methods they used to express this. Borne out of this culture was a new kind of music that combined the music culled from various tribes in Africa, the Christian ideology, and the Western music styles. What was once dubbed as “negro spirituals” is known today as gospel music. Gospel music broke through public consciousness during the 1900s, but started to gain more prominence through radio and records during the 1920s. Some of gospel music's most influential singers came from religious backgrounds. Rock stars Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart have admitted that gospel music had a hand in their musical development. At one point or another, these gospel music singers had moved on to other types of genres during the duration of their musical careers but they all began with gospel music and have made their mark in the genre. Of the long list of singers, two names stand out the most: Sam Cooke and Mahalia Jackson. Sam Cooke is considered by many as one the pioneers for soul music. Known for his distinctive vocals, he became the lead singer for the gospel music group, the Soul Stirrers, during the 1950s. With Cooke on lead vocals, the group gained mainstream prominence and churned out many hit songs during their time. It’s interesting to note that the Soul Stirrers’ were inducted Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame for having contributed to the formation of Rock n’ Roll. Sam Cooke is known as the first African-American pop idol after he made his solo debut in the secular music scene and was also the first African-American to ever own his own recording company. Unfortunately his rise to stardom was cut short when he was shot to death at the age of 33. The lure of mainstream popularity has always been hard to resist. Many of the most influential gospel singers had crossed over to secular music to further expand their careers, but not Mahalia Jackson who is widely regarded as one of the most influential gospel singers and the first Queen of Gospel Music. She was mentored by the Father of Gospel Music himself, Thomas A. Dorsey, and theirs was a partnership that flourished for fourteen years. She was known for two things: her powerful contralto voice and her steadfast vow not to do secular music, a vow which she kept until her death. The past & present will always collide in the realm of music, with the legacy of the past leaving deep impressions in the present generation of singers who would create and add their own music legacies. For instance, rocker Rod Stewart cited Sam Cooke’s vocal phrasings as a great influence on him as an aspiring singer in the UK. Mahalia Jackson at one point in her life had mentored the now reigning queen of soul, Aretha Franklin! These two singers from the past took different paths throughout their careers, but their influence continues to live on in the music they left behind.

Gospel Music - The Most Influential Singers, Past & Present

Written by Gary Harbin

Gospel Music - The Most Influential Singers, Past and Present  

Gospel music dates back to the early 18th century when Americans brought back Africans to work as laborers. Part of the slaves’ indoctrinati...

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