Rhythm and Blues University

The Gospel Music Connection

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Thomas A. Dorsey, heavily influenced by his career as a blues musician, created gospel music and promoted its sheet music sales among churches. Based in Chicago, Dorsey's secular and work song-songwriting style with religious themes for church choirs, left indelible imprints upon negro music. 

Negro churches in Chicago and across America served as crossroad junctions that housed and protected a significant portion of African musical culture. Preservations and perfection included, but were not limited to, distinct vocal stylings, the tambourine, rhythms and dance of the ring shout, African finger style instrumentation applied to the piano and guitar, the two/four backbeat, and call and response found in the vocal tradition. Doresy tapped into the legacy and added to it. The African work song and Dorsey's gospel music influence ranged from from The Soul Stirrers, Dixie Hummingbirds, The Ink Spots, Lionel Hampton, Mahalia Jackson, and others; extending to Alan Freed’s Moonglows, and all the way to James Brown. An important gospel music case-in-point is Rosetta Tharpe, originally from Arkansas. Her African finger-styled guitar playing, gospel music, call and response, two/four beat, etc. made the Billboard in 1945. 

 

 

Rosetta Tharpe

                                               “Strange Things Are Happening Everyday”

#2 Billboard  April 28, 1945

Gospel of the Blues - samples

Quincy Jones maintains that fellow Chicago jazz legend, Lionel Hampton was rocking negro music in the 1940s and claims modern rock groups follow Hampton's jazz dance innovations. Alan Freed, the man credited with intensely promoting the rhythm and blues lyric term, "rock and roll,"  specifically sought the endorsement of Lionel Hampton for his film that featured a "Rock and Roll Coronation Ball." Milton Gabler, the legendary producer for Decca Records supports Quincy Jones. He credits Hampton's drummer's with having to soften the two-four drum beats in recording sessions because recording technology in the 1940s could not handle loud percussion sounds. Hampton himself claims that the emphasis of the two-four beat was preserved in the Holiness Church, in which he was raised. Hampton said he brought the two-four beat into rock music.

Chicago also became the adopted home for The Soul Stirrers, the culture's most famous and renown gospel singing group. The religious entertainers, originally from Houston,Texas, rose to fame using a style that departed from the popular religious "small group-Fisk Jubilee mold," performing closer to the "African work gang" or "modern gospel quartet" style; showcasing call and response. They introduced the "double lead singer" technique that famously featured H. R. Harris and Paul Foster. Most notably, rhythm and blues legends, Sam Cooke and Johnny Taylor were both mentored by The Soul Stirrers. Cooke paid homage to the African technology of work rhythms and two-four beats, used by gospel quartets, by writing and recording the famous composition, 'The Chain Gang."

2/4 Beat of the Chain Gang

 

 

Gospel music represented only one path flowing from the African work gang legacy. The cultural technique actually split into at least two avenues. One path can be traced to gospel music, and the other leads to secular rhythm and blues vocal group performance. The secular path is linked to The Ink Spots and leads to Alan Freed, the white rhythm and blues disc jockey. The Ink Spots were formed in the early 1930s and by the 1940s were internationally acclaimed. The group was intensely criticized by some pop artists of the 1950s for having led the way to popularizing the new negro art form that featured a "led singer and background support group;" singing off key to the European ear.

 

 

Charlie Fuqua, one of the original Ink Spots, was the uncle of Harvey Fuqua; a leader of the rhythm and blues group called "The Moonglows" (Whitburn). Marvin Gaye emerged from the Moonglows under the influence of Harvey Fuqua. More to the point, Alan Freed initially managed and named The Moonglows in honor of his original rhythm and blues Cleveland, Ohio radio program; The Moondog Radio Show. 

Another legendary rhythm and blues artist, James Brown began his professional entertainment career in the early 1950s as a member of the Famous Flames, a secular African work song group. Their 1956 hit recording, "Please, Please, Please," was based on the "gospel quartet" styled call and response between Brown as lead singer and The Famous Flames; casted in African work gang heritage.

JB's Work Gang-Gospel Sound

 

 

By 1965, the work gang [background vocal group], The Famous Flames, had disappeared. "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," is attributed to James Brown and His Famous Flames, but Brown was the only vocalist. The Famous Flames had been replaced by musicians, and instrumentalists were still performing in the call and response mode [work gang] with Brown. Brown had evolved and moved closer to rhythmic jazz and dance; and into the musical neighborhood of one of his idols, rhythm and blues great, Louis Jordan of the 1940s.

 

 

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