For a long time, educator, writer and producer Dr. Henry Louis Gates has famously been on a mission to capture Black history. Through programs he produces on PBS, Gates keeps audiences excited with everything he explores. Yet again, he’s engaging viewers with a four-part series titled “Gospel-Season 1.” If you are familiar with and enjoy gospel music, there is nothing else you need to know except when it will air. The four-part PBS series airs over two nights, from Feb. 12 to 13. To prepare audiences for the series, Gates hosts a companion gospel pre-docuseries concert airing on Feb. 9 also on PBS.
“The Black Church has been the home of creative expression and experimentation for more than 300 years,” Gates says in his opening of the first episode of “Gospel.” “From the beginning, this creativity was driven by the one instrument that Black people can count on. Nothing else was available, the human voice.”
The statement is a prelude to an unvarnished look at the role of gospel music in America. For those who saw Gates’ 2021 documentary PBS series, “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,” you will feel that “Gospel” is a continuation of examining faith and worship within the Black community. Many academics and preachers who shared their insights on “The Black Church” are back to give audiences further history about the evolution of gospel music.
“We went back and forth with explaining that contradiction or myth, of the rejection of gospel,” said Stacey Holman, a producer and co-director for “Gospel.” “Black people were leaning toward hymns and anthems.”
Revenue and Faith
Make no mistake, gospel music is big business. “Gospel” goes from the beginning of this genre of praise music to crossover into jazz and R&B, to records, performances, and awards programs. The series comprises four episodes with the titles, “The Gospel Train,” “The Golden Age of Gospel,” “Take the Message Everywhere,” and “Gospel’s Second Century.”
Viewers will learn about the money-making enterprise of turning sermons and music into albums. Audiences are introduced to a few early influencers in gospel music, like the Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s father, The Five Blind Boys, Clara Ward, and the Rev. James Cleveland, a choirmaster, composer, and vocalist.
The series also discusses the rise of Thomas Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson. It’s hard to believe that good church people gave Dorsey and Jackson a hard time.
Dorsey was a successful blues singer, and then he converted. He penned one of the most beloved spirituals, “Precious Lord.”
It seems that some audiences had a problem with how Jackson moved her body when performing. Also, they probably did not like her outspoken way of expressing her opinion.
Then there is the explanation of “hooping.” A style of singing in the Black Church and Pentecostal tradition. As a minister begins to wrap up the sermon, he or she puts more rhythm in the cadence. An astute organist knows what is about to start. It will be a singing, preaching mode.
Preaching Through the Music
The “Gospel” series traces how some gospel singers began recording popular music. It was the path vocalists took to stretch their talent and make money. Look at Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, and Dionne Warwick. Artists who really never left their gospel roots.
As the gospel entered the 1990s, religious conventions were massive, and the music took on a more contemporary beat, bumping up against hip-hop. Back faith radio formats and mega-churches have moved gospel music forward.
“Many African Americans were not attending church with the same regularity their parents and grandparents did,” said Gates. “Nevertheless, gospel albums are selling at platinum levels.”
The door was now open for Donald Lawrence, Kirk Franklin, Mary, Mary, Yolanda Adams, and others.
“It is a genre that can live in different spaces,” said Holman, also a producer and director for “The Black Church series. “It can live in country, in hip-hop, and in the blues.”Look at a trailer that will get you in the spirit for “Gospel – Season 1.”
Source: Washington Informer