Thursday, 21 July 2011

Gospel, the Soul of Pop - part 1

Whether you are religious or not, you are not going to escape the fact that gospel music has more than a vital importance to the evolution of popular music. You will find its influence in every genre you can think of, in jazz, soul, ska, reggae, rock, rap, modern r&b; and even if you trace back the roots of seemingly unrelated music styles, you will find gospel music somewhere along the line.
Gospel music is, and here I quote- ‘music that is written to express either personal, spiritual or a communal belief regarding Christian life’- The words personal and spiritual are the most important factors when trying to explain how this music of faith helped shape the anatomy of pop. Gospel has its beginning in the U.S.A. during the dark days of slavery, when African slaves were forced to follow the religion of their white masters. It was at these Sunday rituals that the slaves could let out their imprisoned emotions, and set their souls free, using music as the conveying vessel. In the beginning the only musical instruments they had were their voices and their hands, and the natural sway of the body kept the rhythm; at some stage in the course of the years the piano made its appearance, and to this day these elements are the solid base of gospel music.
Slavery ended but segregation continued, and black and white Americans lived cheek by jowl, each in their own world. But music is blind to segregation. In the early 20th century, ragtime and jazz were being played in the whites-only clubs of Chicago and New York, both genres of music being off-shoots of gospel. Surprisingly, credit must given to two white composers George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin who daringly in 1935 wrote and presented the first all African American opera ‘Porgy and Bess’. For the majority of the primarily white audience, this was their first contact with gospel, and its closely related music forms, jazz and blues. Arrogance takes a long time to cure; it was not until 1976 that this masterpiece was accepted as an opera, and it took a further nine years before, the Metropolitan Opera of New York gave their first performance of the work! Thank God, Tommy was a rock opera; otherwise we would be still waiting for the first performance.
The 1940’s saw an eruption of the variety of popular musical styles. Hard bop, show jazz and swing, and hidden in all these genres was a part that was gospel. It is not until the 1950’s that gospel starts to be openly acclaimed as an indispensable part of modern music.
To be continued….

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