Rev. James Cleveland
Rev. James Cleveland – Gospel goes to the masses.

NPR: Options – Gospel Music In America – 1974 – NPR – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

Gospel Music in America. A long, engrossing history of a music which has touched many people and many genres and continues to inspire, evoke and influence every aspect of music in America today.

This documentary, a one-hour special as part of NPR’s Options series from the 1970s, illustrates the history of Gospel, going back to slave days and follows the growth and influence the form had in the early days of Blues, Jazz and Popular music and the impact Gospel music has had on American life even up to the present (1974).

Illustrating the history are interviews with celebrated musicians and examples of how the form evolved. Interviews with Dizzy Gillespie, Esther Mae (Mother) Scott, Amiri Baraka, Bill Withers and others. Examples by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Aretha Franklin, J.M. Gates, The Soul Stirrers, Marvin Gaye, and the list goes on.

It’s impossible to get everything; all the history, all the influences, down in an hour. But it’s a start if you’re just getting into it and have been hearing about Gospel Music and its influence on American music and how, in many ways it has influenced music throughout the world, but haven’t actually heard the voices or the examples. Hopefully, this is jumping off place and it will lead you to make a lot of discoveries on your own.

Gospel Music has a rich heritage and has touched so many facets of music in our current history. And to know its wide influence, from religious music to music of protest, is hugely important. It’s also part of our culture and a vital part of Black American culture and history. To not know about it is to deny an entire and emotionally stimulating world. To know how things got started and how they evolved is part of the human experience – and life, as you know, is a journey filled with experiences. If you miss them, you’ve missed out on life.

Here is that episode of NPR’s Options: Lift Every Voice – The Impact of Black Gospel Music On American Life – from April 1974.

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