Black Gospel

Feb 25, 2024 | Welcome Column

I did some mindless channel surfing on the television today and I happened to pause on a religious network station, (channel 8 for me). I hardly ever watch much of the channel but I pass by it often because it’s between other stations I often watch. But I paused today and watched most of the show because the music was so compelling. It got me thinking about gospel music in general.

Our CBA’s mission is to promote “bluegrass, old time and gospel music”, or so I’m told but in reality most CBA people gravitate to the first of that trilogy and many embrace musical genres distinct from that set which happen to merely incorporate mostly bluegrass instruments.

I’m a sucker for music on TV because there seems to be so little out there to my liking. I’ll even watch short clips on made for TV ads selling collections of great tunes from the (name your decade).

Today’s gospel show, Gospel’s Jubilee Showcase, was mostly vintage recordings from the sixties but I couldn’t tune away because the music was so energetic and powerful. One of the bands featured was the Soul Stirrers. I remembered the band because Sam Cooke was such a revelation to my ears the first time I heard his amazing singing. The Soul Stirrers included many great musicians over their long history just like the Bluegrass Boys did.

Gospel music for many people is a calling. They learn to sing in church and many passionately believe that they are on the earth to serve God and minister to their fellow humans through the music that they put their heart and soul (emphasis on soul) into. Many a great gospel singer has rejected fame in the mainstream while others like Sam Cooke and Jimmy Outler chased fame and fortune. Both Sam and Jimmy ended up shot to death.

If you’re a true bluegrass fan you owe it to yourself to listen to really quality black gospel if you haven’t already. You have at least been exposed to it from people like Doyle Lawson if your listening list includes all the masters. Listen to Doyle’s band render I Heard Zion Moan. Listen to Jezebel. It’s basically black gospel done by white people.

Just to show it can be done well by white people too! Music is music and black gospel music is very much worth listening to. Over my twenty years of attending the Father’s Day Bluegrass festival though, I have never heard a black gospel band on stage. Maybe I missed one. It’s possible.

There are a number of really good gospel bands right here in California. Why don’t we invite them to play at our next festival? Doyle and others know that there is a well spring of compelling music in the gospel genre, as I discovered on my channel surfing journey today.

Let’s make the poor stepchild of the CBA triumvirate a little more mainstream. What do you say?

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