From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Gospel music is a musical genre characterized by dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) referencing lyrics of a religious nature, particularly Christian. Subgenres include contemporary gospel, urban contemporary gospel (also known as black gospel), and modern Gospel music (now more commonly known as praise and worship or Contemporary Christian music). Most forms of gospel music use electric guitar, drums, and electric bass guitars.
Gospel music varies in style and flavour. Scholars have argued and some believe that gospel music first came out of African-American churches in the first quarter of the 19th century. Some believe that it was sung by predominately white Southern Gospel artists. This argument is based more on geography than fact. Seeing that black gospel was a form of communications between slaves while in Africa and white gospel was originated in its European form before even making it to American soil make the argument valid for both sides. The sharp division between black and white America, particularly black and white churches, have kept the two apart. While those divisions have lessened slightly in the past fifty years, the two traditions are still distinct.
Some performers, such as Mahalia Jackson have limited themselves to appearing in religious contexts only, while others, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pioneer for black mainstream gospel, the Golden Gate Quartet and Clara Ward, have performed gospel music in secular settings, even night clubs. Other performers, such as The Jordanaires, The Blackwood Brothers, Al Green, and Solomon Burke have also performed both secular and religious music.
Alternate theory of origin
It has been long thought by the wider African American community that American Gospel music originated in Africa and was brought to the Americas by slaves. However recent studies by Professor Willie Ruff, an Afro-American ethno-musicologist at Yale University concludes that African American Gospel singing was in fact was introduced and encouraged by Scottish Gaelic speaking settlers from North Uist. His study also and concludes that the first foreign tongue spoken by slaves in America was not English but Scottish Gaelic taught to them by gaelic speakers who left the Western Isles because of religious persecution themselves. Traditional Scottish Gaelic psalm singing, or "precenting the line" as it is correctly known, in which the psalms are called out and the congregation sings a response, was the earliest form of congregational singing in Africa before coming to America. Professor Ruff, focuses on Scottish settler influences that pre-dates all other congregational singing by African Americans in America and found, in a North Carolina newspaper dated about 1740, an advertisement offering a generous reward for the capture and return of a runaway African slave who is described as being easy to identify because he only spoke Gaelic. There is no doubt the great influx of Scots Presbyterians into the Carolinas introduced the African slaves to Christianity and their way of worship and singing. Even today, psalm singing and gospel music are the backbone of African American churchgoers. The lasting legacy of Ruff’s research is an anthropological revelation which forces the re-evaluation of the history of two peoples.