A History of Spreading the Gospel through Music: From Slave Spirituals to Civil Rights
In order to offer a wider historical context for the Ramsey Center’s exhibit on Gospel music in Western North Carolina, this talk will focus on the rise of Gospel music as popular music among African-Americans over the course of the twentieth century. While Gospel developed from the Slave Spirituals of the antebellum and Reconstruction eras, the genre’s name and sounds developed in 1920s Chicago, an era most often associated with the jazz and blues of New York’s Harlem Renaissance. In fact, Thomas Dorsey, a former blues pianist and accompanist for Bessie Smith and other leading blues women, turned away from the down home blues and repented by dedicating his musical creativity to spreading “the good news” and inventing a new style of music: gospel. Dorsey set the terrain for a wide array of artists, from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Sam Cook, Mahalia Jackson to Aretha Franklin. By the 1950s and 60s, Gospel music became a powerful and fundamental feature of the Black Freedom Struggle.
David Gilbert is a historian of popular music and culture at Mars Hill University, where he concentrates on the connections between African-American artistry, civil rights, and popular entertainment industries in the United States. His first book, The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace (University of North Carolina Press), explores pre-WWI New York and argues that African Americans helped create the sounds, styles, and commercial markets for Twentieth Century America. It won the Outstanding Academic Book award from the American Library Association in 2015.
Admission to Around Here is free and open to all. Complimentary coffee and cookies will be provided.