Southern gospel and black history
As Black History month begins, this note from new reader WM seems timely:
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Thanks for an excellent blog. I only just discovered you by accident and have enjoyed wandering through several discussion threads.
There is a point of irony, however, in your description of Southern Gospel as “white” gospel music.
I actually stumbled upon your site while researching Doris Akers (an African-American who worked with both Mahalia Jackson and Bill Gaither) in preparation for Black History Month.
Last year I asked some of the older, white gospel singers in our church to sing special songs by Thomas Dorsey and Charles Tindlay. They were delighted to be asked to perform their favorites but seemed utterly stunned when they learned they were performing as a part of the Black History Month emphasis. They simply had no idea where their best loved songs originated.
One of the evils of “Segregation” in the 20th-Century South was that it drove successful black gospel musicians to New York, Chicago, and L.A.–where they continued to spread the Word by creating a style perhaps better described as “Urban Gospel.”
However, we cannot hope to recapture or understand the heritage of Southern Gospel without recognizing the influence that the children of African slaves had upon our words, rhythms, melodies, and harmonies. (And if you take those away, there’s not much left!)