In Christian religions, hymns are usually directed toward God. Most Christian worship services have, since the earliest times, incorporated the singing of hymns, either by the congregation or by a selected choir, often accompanied by an organ.

Thomas Aquinas, in the introduction to his commentary on the Psalms, defined the Christian hymn thus: “Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem.” (“A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.)

Since there is a lack of musical notation in early writings, the actual musical forms in the early church can only be surmised. During the Middle Ages a rich hymnody developed in the form of Gregorian chant or plainsong. This type was sung in unison, in one of eight Church modes, and most often by monastic choirs. While they were written originally in Latin, many have been translated. A familiar hymn of this type is the 11th century plainsong Divinum Mysterium, (although the words Of the Father’s Love Begotten date back to around the 4th century), that is a common part of church Christmas repertoires in the English language.

The Protestant Reformation produced a burst of hymn writing and congregational singing. Martin Luther is notable not only as a reformer, but as the author of many hymns including “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, which is sung today even in Roman Catholicism. Luther and his followers often used their hymns, or chorales, to teach tenets of the faith to worshipers. The earlier English writers tended to paraphrase bibical text, particularly Psalms; Isaac Watts followed this tradition, but is also credited as having written the first English hymn which was not a direct paraphrase of Scripture. Later, writers took even more freedom, some included allegory and metaphor in their texts. Four part harmony also became the norm, rather than unison singing.

Charles Wesley’s hymns spread Methodist theology, not only within Methodism, but in most Protesant churches. He developed a new focus – expressing one’s personal feelings in the relationship with God as well as the simple worship seen in older hymns. Wesley wrote:

Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire,
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great deliverer’s praise.
Wesley’s contribution, along with the Second Great Awakening in America led to a new style called gospel, and a new explosion of sacred music writing with Fanny Crosby, Ira D. Sankey, and others who produced testimonial music for revivals, camp meetings and evangelistic crusades.

African-Americans developed a rich hymnody from spirituals during times of slavery to the modern, lively black gospel style.

The Methodist Revival of the eighteenth century created an explosion of hymnwriting in Welsh, which continued into the first half of the nineteenth century. The most prominent names among Welsh hymn-writers are William Williams of Pantycelyn and Ann Griffiths. The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of hymntune composition and choir singing in Wales.

Some Christians today are using Christian lyrics in the rock music style although this often leads to some controversy between older and younger congregants. This is not new; the Christian pop music style began in the late 1960s and became very popular during the 1970s, as young hymnists sought ways in which to make the music of their religion relevant for their generation.

This long tradition has resulted in a rich lode of hymns. Some modern churches include within hymnody, the traditional hymn (usually addressed to God), praise choruses (often sung scripture texts) and gospel (expressions of one’s personal experience of God). This distinction is not perfectly clear; and purists remove the second two types from the classification as hymns. It is a matter of debate, even sometimes within a single congregation, often between revivalist and traditionalist movements.

Some Christian hymnists and their more well known hymns are:

Thomas Aquinas : Pange Lingua, Verbum Supernum Prodiens
Tommaso da Celano : Dies Iræ
William Cowper : There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
Fanny Crosby : Blessed Assurance and 8,000 others
Paul Gerhardt : O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded
Martin Luther : A Mighty Fortress is Our God
John Newton : Amazing Grace
Dan Schutte : Here I Am, Lord
Joseph M. Scriv­en : What a Friend We Have in Jesus’
Knowles Shaw : Bringing in the Sheaves’
Timothy Dudley-Smith : Tell Out My Soul
Eliza R. Snow : O My Father
Isaac Watts : When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Joy to the World
Charles Wesley : Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, Hark, The Herald Angels Sing,
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, many others
John Greenleaf Whittier : Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

Christian hymns, especially in more recent centuries, were often written in four-part vocal harmony. Today, except for choirs and more musically inclined congregations, hymns are typically sung in unison. In some cases complementary full settings for organ are also published, in others, organists and other accompiansts are expected to mentally transcribe the four-part vocal score for their instrument of choice.

Gospel music may refer either to the religious music that first came out of African-American churches in the 1930’s or, more loosely, to both black gospel music and to the religious music composed and sung by white southern Christian artists. While the separation between the two styles was never absolute — both drew from the Methodist hymnal and artists in one tradition sometimes sang songs belonging to the other — the sharp division between black and white America, particularly black and white churches, kept the two apart. While those divisions have lessened slightly in the past fifty years, the two traditions are still distinct.

In both traditions, some performers, such as Mahalia Jackson have limited themselves to appearing in religious contexts only, while others, such as the Golden Gate Quartet and Clara Ward, have performed gospel music in secular settings, even night clubs. Many performers, such as the Jordanaires, Al Green, and Solomon Burke have performed both secular and religious music. It is common for such performers to include gospel songs in otherwise secular performances, although the opposite almost never happens.

Although predominantly an American phenomenon Gospel music has spread throughout the world including to Australia with choirs such as The Elementals and Jonah & The Whalers and festivals such as the Australian Gospel Music Festival. Norway is home to the popular Oslo Gospel Choir.

Origins (1920s – 1940s)
What most people would identify today as ” — African-American religious music based on large church choirs, featuring virtuoso soloists —” began very differently eighty years ago. The gospel music that Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, Willie Mae Ford Smith and other pioneers popularized had its roots in the more freewheeling forms of religious devotion of “Sanctified” or “Holiness” churches — sometimes called “holy rollers” by other denominations — who encouraged individual church members to “testify,” speaking or singing spontaneously about their faith and experience of the Holy Ghost and Getting Happy, sometimes while dancing in celebration.

In the 1920s Sanctified artists, such as Arizona Dranes, many of whom were also traveling preachers, started making records in a style that melded traditional religious themes with barrelhouse, blues and boogie woogie techniques and brought jazz instruments, such as drums and horns, into the church. It is also important to note that gospel music is not just a form of music. It is an intricate part of the religious experience for many church-goers.

Bluegrass music is considered a form of American roots music with its own roots in the English, Irish and Scottish traditional music of immigrants from the British Isles (particularly the Scots-Irish immigrants of Appalachia), as well as the music of rural African-Americans, jazz, and blues. Like jazz, bluegrass is played with each melody instrument switching off, playing the melody in turn while the others revert to backing; this is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carried the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment.

Bluegrass as a style developed during the mid 1940s. Because of war rationing, recording was limited during this time, and the best we can say is that bluegrass was not played before World War II, and it was being played after. As with any musical genre, no one person can claim to have “invented” it. Rather, bluegrass is an amalgam of old-time music, blues, ragtime and jazz. Nevertheless, bluegrass’s beginnings can be traced to one band. Today Bill Monroe is referred to as the “founding father” of bluegrass music; the bluegrass style was named for his band, the Blue Grass Boys, formed in 1939. The 1945 addition of banjo player Earl Scruggs, who played with a three-finger roll now known as “Scruggs style,” is pointed to as the key moment in the development of this genre. Monroe’s 1945-48 band, which featured banjo player Earl Scruggs, singer/guitarist Lester Flatt, fiddler Chubby Wise and bassist Howard Watts, aka “Cedric Rainwater,” created the definitive sound and instrumental configuration that remains a model to this day.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Southern Gospel is a country music gospel art form with emphasis on steel and rhythm guitars as its foundation. It draws on bluegrass, blues, and hillbilly elements. Southern gospel groups tend to use four-part harmony with a high tenor and baritone. The Happy Goodmans, the Speers, and Gold City are examples.

Southern gospel music is a popular form of Christian music, originating in the 1920’s. Southern gospel is often called “quartet music” by gospel fans, due to most Southern gospel being performed by a tenor-lead-baritone-bass quartet make-up. Traditional quartets are usually accompanied only by piano. Some of its roots are found in the publishing work and “normal schools” of Aldine S. Kieffer and Ephraim Ruebush. It was promoted by traveling singing school teachers, southern gospel quartets, and shape note music publishing companies such as the A. J. Showalter Company (1879), the James D. Vaughan Publishing Company and the Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company. Southern gospel is an eclectic musical form, with groups singing black gospel-influenced songs, traditional hymns, a capella songs, country gospel styles, and the difficult ‘convention songs’.

Convention songs begin with the quartet beginning in harmony, and then all four members of the quartet break into singing a different part. The quartet then falls back into harmony on the last line of the verse and sings the chorus. They are known as ‘convention songs’ because they were invented by quartet training centers like the Stamps-Baxter School Of Music as a way to teach quartet members how to concentrate on singing their own part. Examples of convention songs are “Heavenly Parade”, “I’m Living In Canaan Now”, and “Delivered Out From The Hands Of Pharoah”.

Southern gospel also drew much of its creative energy from the Holiness movement churches that arose throughout the south in the first decades of the twentieth century and that created new music, in addition to the traditional hymns of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to accompany their new forms of worship.

Some early country gospel artists, such as The Carter Family and The Cook Family Singers, achieved wide popularity through their recordings and radio performances in the 1920s and 1930s. Others, such as Homer Rodeheaver, Cathedral Quartet, George Beverly Shea or Cliff Barrows, became well-known through their association with evangelists such as Billy Sunday, Rex Humbard or Billy Graham.

Among the best known southern gospel male quartets are The Blackwood Brothers, the Cathedral Quartet, J. D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet, the Statesmen quartet the Jordanaires, the Imperials, Gold City, the Kingsmen, the Gaither Vocal Band, the Florida Boys, the Masters V, the Inspirations and the Oak Ridge Boys. Groups like the LeFevres opened the way for mixed quartets and groups where families began traveling the road. Famous mixed groups include the The Happy Goodman Family, the Hinsons, the Talleys, the Martins and the Bill Gaither Trio. In the last couple decades, many trios began touring like Greater Vision, the Bishops and the Perry Sisters along with many other performers that set out on their own as soloists (and talented song writers) like Squire Parsons, Kirk Talley, David L Cook, Ivan Parker, and Walt Mills.

The style of music now known as southern gospel music has been around since the 1950’s and is generally known as classic gospel music. Southern Gospel Music has made a tremendous revival in popularlity thanks to the efforts of Bill and Gloria Gaither and their Homecoming Friends which began as a Homecoming Reunion of many of the best known and loved SGM groups back in the 1980s. This style is still sung by some groups and has fans in all age ranges mostly in the United States but also in many foreign countries like Ireland, Australia, etc. The Contempory Christian Music field was begun in part by a famous Southern Gospel Group called The Imperials which was formed by Jake Hess.

The Gospel Music Association is a major group of gospel artists who maintain a hall of fame covering all aspects of gospel music. There are still a few terrestrial radio stations whose format is Southern Gospel music but most SGM stations are internet only stations.

Over the last decade, a newer version of Southern Gospel has come to light. This style is called Progressive Southern Gospel and is characterized by its use of more contemporary lyrics and musical arrangements.*

*some excerpts From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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