In the black culture of the first half of the 20th cent., gospel music was considered antithetical to blues and jazz, despite their similarity of origins, and gospel performers rarely sang in nonreligious settings. Later, as all three forms became popular outside the black community, they were less mutually exclusive. A strong gospel element underlies the "soul" jazz and rock music of the 1950s and 60s. Composer and pianist Thomas A. Dorsey, often referred to as "the father of the gospel song," played a major role in the development of gospel music. Important gospel performers have included Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Alex Bradford, James Cleveland, The Swan Silver Tones, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Dixie Hummingbirds, and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Pop singers who have been heavily influenced by gospel include Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. While the greatest era in gospel is widely considered to be c.1945-1965, the tradition and the music remain vital in contemporary culture. The Gospel Music Association rewards achievements in the genre with the annual Dove Awards.
See T. Heilbut, The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Time (1971); L. Gentry, A History and Encyclopedia of Country and Western and Gospel Music (1961, repr. 1972); H. C. Boyer, How Sweet the Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel (1995).
Form of black American music derived from Pentecostal church worship services and from spiritual and blues singing. Recordings of Pentecostal preachers' sermons were immensely popular among African Americans in the 1920s. Taking the scriptural direction “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord” (Psalm 150), Pentecostal churches welcomed timbrels, pianos, banjos, guitars, other stringed instruments, and even brass into their services. Choirs often featured the extremes of female vocal range in antiphonal counterpoint with the preacher's sermon. Other forms of gospel music have included the singing and acoustic guitar playing of itinerant street preachers; individual secular performers; and harmonizing male quartets, whose acts included dance routines and stylized costumes. Gospel music's principal composers and practitioners included Thomas A. Dorsey, who coined the term; the Rev. C.A. Tindley (1851–1933); the blind wandering preacher Rev. Gary Davis (1896–1972); Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915–73), whose performances took gospel into nightclubs and theatres in the 1930s; and Mahalia Jackson. Gospel music was a significant influence on rhythm and blues and soul music, which have in turn strongly influenced contemporary gospel music.
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Annually held in Estes Park, CO since 1974 "Music in the Rockies" (formally Seminar in the Rockies) is a showcase event for aspiring (often unsigned) songwriters and artists in the Christian music industry. This event will be replaced by a new event in Nashville, Tennessee starting in 2009.
The GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame, which was created in 1971, is dedicated exclusively to recognizing meaningful contributions of individuals in all forms of gospel music. Inductees include Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Keith Green, Larry Norman, The Blackwood Brothers, The Imperials, J. D. Sumner and The Stamps, The Jordanaires and others.