Saturday, November 06, 2010

When did Gospel music really begin?


Over the past few weeks, I've caught a bit of the Radio Ulster programme "The Gospel Train", presented by American soul singer Mirenda Rosenberg, which is broadcast on Sunday afternoons. A good programme with a broad mix of blues/soul American gospel music and definitely worth a listen. I've got old LPs by Sister Rosetta Tharpe (that's her above), cds by groups like the Soul Stirrers and Dixie Hummingbirds, and even recorded the Thomas Dorsey song "If You See My Saviour" a few years ago. Michael W Harris' book The Rise of Gospel Blues (1994) is a superb study of Thomas Dorsey's life - and the film (now DVD) "Say Amen, Somebody" contains some marvellous footage of Dorsey and Sally Martin (see clip below).

In terms of pop culture today, the impression that is often given is that gospel music was created in the 20th century by American blues and soul performers like Dorsey, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, etc. (here's an example - you'll come across this time and again).Brilliant and important as those artists were/are, the claim is false.

What would Ira D Sankey make of that claim? Or our own Robert Lowry? Or Isaac Watts? Or Charles Wesley? And of course there's this litte-known work from the 1700s. Or Martin Luther? Or the Psalmist - King David? Or, to go back even further, what about the "Song of the Sea" or "Song of Moses"?

Pop culture is a strange and highly selective thing. Meanwhile, enjoy these:

Thomas Dorsey & Sally Martin - singing along to a record of "If You See My Saviour"

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Up Above My Head

"I Greet Thee, who my Redeemer Art" - believed to have been written by John Calvin