GOSPEL MUSIC AND THE BIRTH OF SOUL
How did Gospel influence American popular music?
Gospel music first emerged from the fusion of West African musical traditions, the experiences of slavery, Christian practices, and the hardships associated with life in the American South. Over time, as the influence of the African-American church grew and the Great Migration transported thousands of African Americans from the South to America’s northern industrial cities, the influence of this musical genre expanded. Ultimately, Gospel's reach would extend well beyond the religious realm, directly affecting the world of secular music.
In some cases, a mere change of lyrics could transform a Gospel song into a successful work of Pop, wherein the worshipped God (“He”) became the prosaic object of worldly affection (“she”). When Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers recorded “Wonderful,” they declared that “Whenever I need, the Lord will provide/And praise my Lord’s name/I know he’s so wonderful.” Singing initially under the name “Dale Cook” so as not to offend his Gospel listeners, Cooke would propel the same tune to Pop success by singing, “There’s not quite another/Quite as sweet as you/I love my girl, she’s so lovable.”
In other cases, it was the rich vocal harmonies of groups such as the Jordanaires and the Golden Gate Quartet that informed the sound of Pop, exerting an influence on everyone from the Girl Groups of the late 1950s and early 1960s to the hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Elvis Presley’s vocal stylings bore the unmistakable influence of the Gospel sound he had heard growing up in the poor neighborhoods of Tupelo and Memphis, where contact with African-American culture was often very direct. And, with the Jordanaires a part of his recording ensemble, white Gospel traditions were woven into the fabric of his music.
In this lesson, students will trace the influence of Gospel music on early Rock and Roll, particularly in R&B's embrace of such key musical features as the call-and-response and in the uses of complex rhythms. The class will make side-by-side comparisons of Gospel and early Rock and Roll songs, as well as work in groups to chart the overall influence of Gospel on a range of different popular music genres.
Video pages: Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Didn't It Rain (1964) | The Jordanaires - Dig a Little Deeper (1950) | Kanye West - Gold Digger (2005) | Ray Charles - I Got a Woman (1954) | The Southern Tones - It Must Be Jesus (1954) | Sam Cooke - Loveable (1963) | Elvis Presley & The Jordanaires - Too Much (1957) | Little Richard - Tutti Frutti (1957) | Sam Cooke - Wonderful (1959)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will Know (Knowledge):
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.