James Calhoun, director of choral activities, showed how gospel music became the lively music it is today by explaining the evolution of spirituals starting from the 18th century.
In the faculty lecture titled, “The History and Evolution of Gospel Music,” Calhoun described the changes gospel music underwent during three great awakenings and prominent gospel musicians that emerged across time.
“There was a demand for livelier music,” Calhoun said about colonial America during the first awakening period, which started in 1730.
During this time, blacks started breaking away from white congregations.
The separation of the races in the church led to a second great awakening with the creation of Negro spirituals at the height of slavery.
“The music took on a whole different dimension with the addition of their own indigenous experiences,” Calhoun said.
Negro spirituals followed certain characteristics like repetition, rhythmic freedom, were a capella and had hidden messages.
Calhoun gave the example of a spiritual that said, “steal away to Jesus,” which could mean the person was tired and wanted to die, or it served as a signal time to runaway to the Underground Railroad.
The third awakening period started in 1850 with the development of white gospel hymns, which Calhoun describes as just being songs written by white people.
In comparison to Negro spirituals, white gospel hymns were straightforward and suppressed emotional outbursts.
“They were similar in style to the early 19th century camp fire songs,” Calhoun said.
During the third awakening, new religious folk genres were also being created like hymn lining, which is when congregations come together and sing verses such as, “I love the Lord he heard my cry,” in their own interpretation.
The moans and howls expressed by the congregation while singing was directly related to the blues music of the time, Calhoun said.
“It creates a haunting effect,” Calhoun said.
Thomas Dorsey, known as the father of gospel, who was influenced by Methodist preacher Charles Tindley, ultimately coined the term “gospel music.”
Dorsey is best known for his song “Precious Lord,” which was played in Lyndon B. Johnson’s and Martin Luther King’s funeral.
The public initially rejected gospel music for being too lively, and found its use of blues chords sacrilegious, Calhoun said.
Most recently, in the 1960s, gospel music became more mainstream in pop culture with the help of Edwin Hawkins’ hit, “Oh Happy Day.”
“He is the father of building the bridge of old gospel and new gospel,” Calhoun said.
The lecture concluded with three of Calhoun’s students performing the gospel songs “My Life, My Love, My All” and “In Total Praise.”
“I just feel there’s some kind of enlightenment,” said Vicky Campos, sophomore music major, who performed. “It’s a blessing to sing with them and feel their devotion.”
Junior music major Paolo Kespradit grew up with Catholic music and feels overjoyed while performing gospel.
“It’s something I look forward to practicing,” Kespradit said. “It’s a little bit more lively than some other styles.”
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.