Come 2015, everyone inspired by gospel and worship music may very well be heading to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
Priceless songs and ephemera from the Golden Age of Gospel will be featured at the museum, thanks to the Smithsonian’s collaboration with Baylor University’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Under the leadership of Prof. Bob Darden, a former Billboard gospel editor, the project has been acquiring, preserving, and cataloging music in various tape formats produced between the 1940s and 1980s.
The project is
lending collection highlights to the Smithsonian with the aim of letting more people learn about gospel music. In doing so, museum visitors can not only appreciate the rich musical tradition of African-Americans, but their faith and history as well. As
organizers told Voice of America:
“You think people are just talking about religion, and the other side they have a message embedded in that as well,” [Dwandalyn Reece, NMAAHC curator of Music and Performing Arts] said. “The whole idea of having, like a Civil Rights Movement message in a gospel song—it was—just blew my mind.”
African-American gospel music, Darden likes to remind people, is the foundational music for most American music from the 20th century.
“Every rock n’ roll African-American artist, every rap, every soul artist came out of the church and sang these songs,” he said.
While scholars preserve treasures of gospel music, many others keep the art form vibrantly alive, proving
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that it is far from lost. Nowadays, for example, artists like Lecrae, Trip Lee, Flame, and Shai Linne have branched out from more traditional choir, soul, and blues styles to produce rap and hip-hop songs that expound on Christian themes.
This new wave of artists joins a group of Grammy-winning singers, such as CeCe Winans, Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and Mary Mary, who infuse gospel elements into their work. Moreover, individual ministers like Bishop Leonard Scott continuously create praise and worship songs that both help deepen the faith of their congregations and enrich the ever-growing body of gospel music.
The genre, in fact, has developed to include several sub-genres incorporating elements from non-African-American cultures. Chief among these are country, bluegrass, and Celtic gospel. It only goes to show that music, much like religion and faith, evolves as a living tradition. Lovers of worship music may head to museums to revisit the roots of the art, and support those who continue to make it—and all that it stands for—grow.
(Article Image and Excerpt from Gospel Music Restoration Project to Add Flavor to New Museum, Voice of America, December 5, 2013)