Originally posted on the PRAYZE PLACE Blog, "How To Save Gospel Music: Part One" (MySpace.com)
I thought about it for a second and I really wanted to post an article on this subject on PRAYZEHYMNOnline.com. Who knows...I just might. But in the meantime, I'm going to throw out a few wise words, choices and options that may bring clarity to this glorious heritage of music we call 'gospel' music.
First you got to know what you are saving before you go after trying to rescue it. And to make it a little more practical in words, you have to know where you've been in order to know where you are going. In the last two decades, Gospel music has making shifts and turns in directions that remain both unprecedented and threatening to its original form of glory. Today's generation has no real respect to the historical relevance of its pre-war pioneers and Golden Age developers. And most of the facts and information has been misconstrued and unappreciated for years that it is hard for serious musicologists (or in better words - music historians) to receive any form of credit. Researchers I have valued including Anthony Heilbut, Horace Clarence Boyer, W.K. McNeil, Bob Darden, Bernice Johnson Reagon have done an incredible job in putting our music's history to words for future generations to adore. Have we as gospel music lovers seriously read any of their works? I'm sure "we" haven't. Even though I know I have, I include myself in the list of today's lazy gospel generation...just because I hung with them at the lunchroom table in grade school and I don't want to sit in the seat of judgement...not at this time. Maybe later.
I felt like writing this piece in parts - because the matter is weighty and very tough to tackle at one particular time. Gospel music is at a crucial point in time...whether critics want to agree or not...whether the "churched" want to believe it or not. Years ago, gospel music was defined by style. A style that used to be clearly identifiable and easy to define. Gospel music had a sound. A sound that incorporated its musical origins of blues and jazz into a swirling frenzy of spiritual soul music. And with that sound came the expressions of the African heritage and the responses from the centuries of agony, survival and conquest. The slave songs, the work songs, the holler, the shout, the moaning and spirituals became our forefather's communication to the Creator and with it came knowledge and power. With the blues and jazz, gospel music began to develop and later emerged into its own style; helping to create and stimulate music icons in multiple genres such as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls. Those artists never ceased to use the tools they inhabited from their gospel schooling.
Who would have known artists such as Prof. Alex Bradford would be the primary influence for Little Richard? Who would have thought that Dorothy Love Coates, a female who rocked the foundations of civil rights with her social-gospel messages, would be an inspiration for a number of quartet singers today...especially for men? Who would have thought that a young Aretha Franklin sat quietly and admired the beauty and talent of Clara Ward's performances at her father's New Bethel Baptist Church? Who would have thought that Sam Cooke, a young man that made gospel appealing with the Soul Stirrers, would later create his own genre of music...a genre that artists like John Legend, Alicia Keys, Raheem DeVaughn, Robin Thicke and Anita Baker make a living off of. We as gospel torchbearers have always been the inspiration for our world's priceless musical landmarks. Until now...
I definitely feel we have upset ted the waters of our heritage for numerous reasons. We aren't as responsible, we aren't as intelligent and we aren't as vigilant as the former generations. And the funny thing is...it looks we are because we have more available to us. We have books, computer technology to make our own music without paying one musician, we have mega-churches, we have songbooks, hymnals, MP3s and reasonable resources. AND...we still have a generation of newcomers that refuse to be mentored...that think they are all of that and a bag of Golden Flake potato chips...and cannot take an ounce of valuable criticism. We have cities loaded with lazy and selfish gospel talent and cannot put together one good project of songs. We have selfish producers and songwriters that tend to hold the best songs for their own projects - with hopes they will take home a "notable" award that no one will ever see or remember. We have thousands of MySpace pages with thousands of friends, but not one of those friends are willing to put $15 dollars down to buy their homemade project. And we even have gospel artists nowadays that aspire to be semi-nude models on the side and wonder why the religious-conservative right have a problem with them at the Dove Awards. And we have a generation of newcomers that still don't know what a hymn is...goodness...one evening Yolanda Adams talked to a few of today's gospel celebs on TBN and asked them what their favorite hymn was. Responses such as "I Don't Feel Noways Tired", "Just Another Day" and "I Won't Complain" sparked from their happy souls. As much as I love those gospel gems, those aren't hymns, folkz.
Hey, if you're guilty of any or all of the above...don't write me any hate mail. Just learn to do better.
The first thing we as a people, as a nation of gospel torchbearers, should account for...to help save our genre...we must learn how to be accountable. Of ourselves...of our talent. I can go on and on about that point...but you know the Word. Learn how to properly invest in your talent and to nurture your talents and gifts. Use wisdom upon it and watch your gifts make room for you. Not just at the next midnight musical...but in the industry. The problem with our artists today, both signed and unsigned, is that they believe living a lie and keeping it undercover will make their talent blossom. Hate to say this, but if you are too lazy to write a good song or to search for a good songwriter or producer and too cheap to invest in good ground, then you are not prepared for greater. Learn to be accountable for your strengths and your weakness, for your victories and your failures. Only you posses the key to your destiny. It's time for you to unlock it.
J. Matthew Cobb