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About Gospel Music

Original music (1920s – 1940s)

What most African Americans would identify today as "gospel" began in the early 20th century. The gospel music that Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Willie Mae Ford Smith and other pioneers popularized had its roots in the blues as well as in the more freewheeling forms of religious devotion of "Sanctified" or "Holiness" churches — sometimes called "holy rollers" by other denominations — who encouraged individual church members to "testify," speaking or singing spontaneously about their faith and experience of the Holy Ghost and "Getting Happy," sometimes while dancing in celebration.

Golden age (1940s – 1950s)

By the 1940s, gospel music had expanded to members of all denominations prompting black gospel artists to begin tours and becoming full-time musicians. In this venture Sister Rosetta Tharpe became a pioneer, initially selling millions of records with her ability to drive audiences into histeria by sliding and bending her pitch as well as accompanying herself on steel guitar. In contrast, Mahalia Jackson used her dusky contralto voice to develop her gospel ballads as well as favouring a more joyful approach to singing the gospel. At the same time that quartet groups were reaching their zenith in the 1940s and 1950s, a number of women singers were achieving stardom. Some, such as Mahalia Jackson and Bessie Griffin, were primarily soloists, while others, such as Clara Ward, Albertina Walker, The Caravans, The Davis Sisters and Dorothy Love Coates, sang in small groups. While some groups, such as The Ward Singers, employed the sort of theatrics and daring group dynamics that male quartet groups used, for the most part women gospel singers relied instead on overpowering technique and dramatic personal witness to establish themselves.

Roberta Martin in Chicago stood apart from other women gospel singers in many respects. She led groups that featured both men and women singers, employed an understated style that did not stress individual virtuosity, and sponsored a number of individual artists, such as James Cleveland, who went on to change the face of gospel in the decades that followed.

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Urban Contemporary Gospel

Urban/contemporary gospel is a modern form of Christian music that expresses either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music. Musically, it follows the trends in secular urban contemporary music. Urban/contemporary gospel is a recent subgenre of gospel music. Christian hip hop is a subtype of urban/contemporary gospel music.

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