Music and the Black Church

Who were some promoters of gospel music in the black church?

Methodist minister Charles Tindley (1851–1933) began his work as an itinerant preacher, speaking and singing at camp meetings throughout Maryland. Later he became one of the most powerful leaders in Philadelphia’s black community and a popular speaker before both black and white audiences. By the early 1900s he founded a church now known as Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, which became famous for concerts and new music, much of it he had written. In 1901 he published the first collection of many of the hymns that he wrote during his ministry, including “Stand By Me,” and “We’ll Understand It Better By and By.” In 1916 he published New Songs of Paradise, which was intended for informal worship. Included in this collection was a song that would be known fifty years later as the signature piece of the Civil Rights Movement, “I’ll Overcome Someday.” His songs were the first black gospel songs ever published and were used in black churches regardless of denomination. They are meant to help the oppressed survive and speak to the “harvest to be reaped once the storms of this life have been successfully weathered.”

Other gospel composers and arrangers who helped to spread the gospel are Sallie Martin, Roberta Martin, Lucie Campbell, Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, and groups like the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. At first the so-called “advanced” black churches disapproved of gospel singers and refused to permit them to sing in their churches or to allow gospel singing during their services. Gradually, however, these churches have become more tolerant and accepting of gospel singers and singing as a part of the black music and church tradition.


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