Gospel Friend
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About Gospel Friend        (Last update: February 2017)

History in progress

Any consumer of - live or recorded – popular music of the West should be aware of the significance of gospel as a strong musical and spiritual undercurrent in blues, jazz, rhythm & blues, country, rock & roll, soul, funk, hip hop etc. Gospel as an independent music style during the 20th century has constituted the foundation for all African American popular music genres: rhythm & blues, soul, hip hop etc.

The origins of gospel lay in the Negro spirituals, the European American hymns and the "gospel" hymns, created by black composers. In the early 1930s, Thomas A. Dorsey, the former blues and jazz artist, converted to become the most prominent of the first generation of composers and musicians of gospel. As early as 1921 was the first time "gospel" was officially used as a term referring not only to "good news" but the kind of song and singing that was stirring a nation. In that year, the National Baptist Convention, the largest organisation of African American Christians in the US, published the song collection, "Gospel Pearls".

Since this starting point gospel has absorbed musical influences from various popular secular styles during more than 80 years. Gospel gradually expanded through travelling gospel artists, groups and choirs, and from the 1930s radio and, later, television played an important role in spreading the music. Today, gospel has grown into many branches, such as traditional, contemporary, inspirational, progressive or hip hop gospel. Experts, educators and performers within the gospel community itself has long recognized gospel as one art form among others, like European classic music, jazz, soul or rock. Gospel has made a tremendous progress as it is being performed in many places where it was previously denied, such as convention halls, amusement parks, sports arenas, restaurants, jazz clubs, Catholic churches, schools, colleges, universities and in Broadway plays, to name a few. This phenomenon has also led to a development where certain gospel artists have "crossed over" and reached into Billboard Top 200 and R&B Top 10 charts, selling millions of their recorded music, thus reaching out to many people unfamiliar with the Christian church, its attitudes and life-style.

Gospel as music

For an elaborate and vivid description of gospel music, let us quote Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer, singer, musician and the author of "How Sweet the Sound – the Golden Age of Gospel"(Elliot & Clark Publishing, 1995):
"The most distinctive element of this music is its rhythm, complete with the percussive attacks and asymmetrical accents that identify the style. This rhythm is almost inseparable from gospel harmony. Originally composed primarily of three simple chords, those most often associated with folk music and the blues, the harmony is voiced in such a way that the absence of the bass voice goes unnoticed by the listener. Since the 1970s musicians have introduced into the harmony an abundance of altered chords and even key changes. Melodically, gospel songs commonly begin in performance as scale-like fragments involving only a few skips or leaps. However, as the spirit descends and singers begin to improvise, the rule rather than the exception, melodies become expansive and even chromatic.
The Gospel timbre, that quality that identifies a tuba from a flute, is one that possesses a little grit that is apparent even in scoops, wails, grunts and howls. When a choir, with its bright and joyous sound opens up, church takes place. Body rhythm – hand clapping, foot stamping and shouting (holy dancing) – is combined with the singing to create an unusually intense musical experience."

Gospel as message

For many gospel singers the musical experience – however intense it might be - is not sufficient. In an African American gospel program, different parts work together to shape a single whole, joining speech and song; performer and audience; testimony, prayer, preaching and singing into a seamless and multifaceted service of worship.

The danger is that the singing of gospel music for the glory and honour of God can be subverted into merely singing to satisfy the singer’s emotional needs. The motivation can also be to sing for entertainment or for the values of religious aesthetics of a musical-cultural art form. This conception of what gospel is all about is contradicted by many African American gospel artists. Among them is Ola Jean Andrews (of the Andrews Sisters Gospel Singers) of Oakland, Ca with a life-long experience as a pianist, composer and choir leader. She has taught gospel to choirs in both the US and Europe and she maintains that in gospel, "you sing to the audience of One". To really grasp this point, let us quote from the essay "The Ecumenical Nature of African American Church Music" in the African American Heritage Hymnal (published by GIA Publications, Inc. in 2001) "The intentionality of African American musicians in the black church ecumenical family has always been to creatively express, with the community engaged in worship, the deepest feelings of love for and dependence on the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ."

Gospel Friend embraces all of the above meanings of gospel and leaves to any person to search his own truth in the music. The object of Gospel Friend Records is to out of oblivion, lift up some of the greatest voices within the African American gospel music, individual soloists as well as groups and choirs. The release concentrates on The Golden Age of gospel from around the middle of the 20th century.

Per Notini, producer