§The Reverend James Cleveland moved to Detroit around 1949 to direct the music department at New Bethel Baptist Church. Four years later, he was appointed Minister of Music at Our Faith Prayer Tabernacle Church where he directed the Voices of Tabernacle Choir with whom he recorded his first hit, “The Love of God” in 1960.
§At the age of 15, Della Reese joined the Original Hutchins Gospel Singers and directed choirs at Detroit’s New Liberty Baptist Church. She and Ernestine Rundless formed a female quartet in 1947 with Marie Waters and DeLillian Mitchell called the Meditation Singers. The group brought gospel to secular showrooms across the country including the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, the famed Copacabana in New York and Detroit’s 20 Grand. On another note, Rundless’ husband, Rev. E.A. Rundless who pastored New Liberty, was a member of the legendary gospel group, the Soul Stirrers before moving to Detroit.
§Affectionately called “The Big Three,” Elma Hendrix Parham, organized the women’s chorus at the Greater New Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, founded and directed the Community Youth Ensemble as well as owning the popular Elma and Carl’s House of Music on Owen Street in Detroit and owned her own music publishing company; Mattie Moss Clark, founder of the Southwest Michigan State Choir, the first COGIC State Choir organized (1959) and mother of the famed Clark Sisters; and Lucylle Lemon who served as a choir director at New Bethel Baptist Church and founded the Lucylle Lemon Gospel Chorus, the first community choir organized in Detroit (1943). Another Lucylle Lemon note: Mom and Pop Winans met each other as teenagers while members of the Lemon Gospel Chorus.
§Rev. James Lofton bought the Paradise Theatre (now Orchestra Hall) and founded the Church Of Our Prayer. Rev. Lofton and the church were noted for their 300 voice choir who performed concerts at the Olympia Stadium and the State Fairgrounds.
§Vanessa Bell Armstrong first drew the attention of gospel music fans as a member of the Detroit based choir, The Voices of Heaven during the early to mid 1970’s. Under the leadership of Rev. James Marks and Rev. Ronald Kersey, young Vanessa and choir brought a gospel feel to the pop/inspirational hit “Put A Little Love in Your Heart.”
§As a teenager, Rev. Charles Nicks, Jr. played organ and later recorded with another Detroit gospel landmark, The Harold Smith Majestics. He later became the musician for Detroit’s St. James Baptist Church, the church where he would eventually become pastor. Rev. Nicks and the choir helped to bring attention to another budding, charismatic director, Jimmy “J.D.” Dowell. Jimmy "JD" Dowell and Rev. Charles H. Nicks Jr.
GOSPEL HISTORICAL TIMELINE* Prepared by Deborah Smith Pollard, Ph.D.
1619 First Africans arrive in Virginia singing African music
1640-1680 Large scale slave labor introduced in the British Caribbean
Mid-late 1700’s The folk Negro spiritual emerges
1787 The African Methodist Episcopal Church is founded
1865 Slavery abolished by the 13th amendment
1871 The arranged Negro spiritual created by the Fisk Jubilee Singers
1890-1920’s Transitional/Early Gospel Music
Famous Name(s): Rev. Charles A. Tindley
Songs: “Beams of Heaven,” “I’ll Overcome Some Day” (which later becomes “We Shall Overcome,” the Civil Rights anthem
1929-1940s Traditional Gospel Music Emerges
Some Famous Names: The Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey
The Male Quartets: The Golden Gate Quartet, The Dixie Hummingbirds
Songs: “Precious Lord,” “Peace in the Valley,” “If We Never
Needed the Lord Before,” “Milky White Way”
1945 -1960s The Golden Age of Gospel Music
Some Famous Names: Mahalia Jackson, The Clara Ward Singers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Songs: “Move on up A Little Higher,” “Soon I Will Be Done,” “Surely, God Is Able,” “Packing Up,” “Up Above My Head,” “This Train”
Late 1960s-1980 Contemporary Gospel and The Mass Choir Sound Explode
Some Famous Names: Andrae Crouch, Edwin Hawkins, Mattie Moss Clark, The Rev. Charles Nicks Jr. & St. James Adult Choir,
The Harold Smith Majestics, The Rev. James Cleveland
Songs: “I’ll Be Thinking of You,” “Soon and Very Soon,” “Oh Happy Day,” “Wonderful,” “Climbing up the Mountain,” “Salvation Is Free,” “I Really Love the Lord,” “The Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow),” "Peace Be Still"
1980’s to present Urban Contemporary Gospel Music
Some Famous Names: The Clark Sisters, The Winans, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, Commissioned, Witness, Vickie Winans, John. P. Kee/New Life, Vanessa Bell Armstrong
Songs: “You Brought the Sunshine,” “The Question Is,” “Heaven,” “Stomp,” ” ‘Open My Heart,” “We Fall Down, “Ordinary Just Won’t Do,” “Standard,” “Shake Yourself Loose, “Show Up,” "He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Need"
1985+-present Praise and Worship Music
Some Famous Names: Min. Thomas Whitfield and the Whitfield Company, Fred Hammond, Israel and New Breed, Byron Cage, Martha Munizzi, Shekinah Glory Ministry, J. Moss
Songs: “Precious Jesus,” “Let the Praise Begin,” Rejoice,” “The Presence of the Lord Is Here,” “Because of Who You Are,” “Praise Is What We Do,” “We Must Praise”
1987-present Christian Rap/Holy Hip Hop
Some Famous Names: The Cross Movement, Da Truth, Lecrae,
Songs: “Cry No More,” “That Great Day,” “Jesus Muzik,” “Invasion (Hero)”
*This is a handout I give to audiences or students when I only have one hour to do an
overview of gospel history. If your favorites aren’t here, just know that in a full 14-week class, I am sure to get to them!By the way: who ARE your favorites? Whoever they are, make sure you share some of their music (legally) with someone you love today!--Dr. Deb
Author, motivational speaker and university professor Deborah Smith Pollard, Ph.D., first attracted national attention when she was named Gospel Announcer of the Year during the 20th annual Stellar Awards, called The Grammys of Gospel Music.
Pollard is a recognized expert on contemporary gospel music with a knowledge base that is the result of her dual career: Associate Professor of English Literature and Humanities at University of Michigan-Dearborn and award-winning gospel radio announcer Sunday mornings, 6-10 AM, on FM 98 WJLB, Detroit's top rated station for young adults.
She has published both academic and popular articles on various aspects of gospel music.
Her book, When the Church Becomes Your Party: Contemporary Gospel Music (Wayne State University Press 2008, includes chapters on praise and worship in the urban church, gospel musical stage plays, the changing dress code in gospel music and the Black church, women gospel announcers and holy hip hop/Christian rap.