• Eric Cook

The Death of Gospel Music?

Ok…it’s time for my input regarding the debate on how worship music is changing the sound of the Gospel Music genre. This conversation is not a new one but has been recently stirred up due to the rapid success of worship artist group Maverick City Music. Now, I started in Christian ministry as a teenager serving in music ministry. Through the years I have served as a Worship Leader, Choir Director, Minister of Music, and Worship Pastor. I have degrees in Music and in Worship Studies. I also have been blessed to work as vocal coach, songwriter, and as an Associate college professor teaching music theory, music history, and music ministry leadership. This is not to brag on my accomplishments but to explain why this topic is so dear to my heart. Is today’s worship music changing the sound of Gospel music? The answer is “yes”! I remember similar conversations when Israel Houghton and New Breed came on the seen in 2001. People did not know how to categorize this new sound. The question was being asked if Israel Houghton fell under the Gospel Music genre or the Christian Contemporary Music (CCM)/ Christian Worship Music (CWM) genre. Why was this even a conversation when both genres created music about the Christian faith and Christian values? The Gospel Music industry primarily markets to the African American Christian community where as the CCM/CWM industry markets to the white Christian community. Is this wrong? No, there is nothing wrong with this. Due to culture and people’s musical preferences, I believe this will always be the case. The problem for the church is when we allow these differences to cause us to be divided to the point where we cannot worship together, feel threatened, and find fault outside of blasphemy or incorrect doctrine (these should be our biggest concern). How is it problematic for religious music to cross over to other religious genres? Putting it this way makes it sounds silly and petty. It alludes to a bigger issue – the real issue. The issue is not about Christian content, rhythms, or song structure. The issue is about the preservation of African American musical culture.

Recently, I heard a well-known Gospel artist say they were concerned that the blackness of Gospel music is being lost and we are moving away from our roots. This was in response to the current trend of “black” worship music sounding more “white”. Now when did gospel music become more about black culture and not about God? Of course, I know the answer to this question. It’s always been about black culture first! I know the history of American music - remember I studied it and taught it. African American music was the music that brought my race through slavery. It became the music of black churches, which was the pillar of our communities that carried us through the years of segregation. I know the history of how white artists stole music from black artists. And let’s not forget that all genres of African American music are tied to culture and struggle. Therefore, it must be preserved and never lost but not at the expense of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth.

Was I born a black man? Yes! But haven’t I been born again into the Kingdom of God? YES! If that is true, then I now identify as a blood washed Jesus believer! Therefore, at the end of the day my allegiance is not to my race or culture, but to God and His Kingdom coming to earth. If part of God’s Kingdom coming to earth is through the avenue of worship music, then so be it. Are we not seeing what heaven looks like and how the kingdom of God on earth should look. What are we seeing really? We are seeing worship music breaking the chains of racism and segregation within the church. Open your eyes because this is not just happening to the black churches. White churches are incorporating Gospel worship music (soulful music) into their services. I recently saw a documentary on the Catholic church and how some of them are becoming more “Pentecostal”. These churches have incorporated worship music into their services. Can we not see and discern that God is causing a great awakening among his church through worship music? We as the global church may have differences but we all can agree on one thing…GOD MUST BE WORSHIPPED!

Towards the end of the 20th century something happened within Gospel music. The African American community no longer needed “gospel music” to be the backdrop to social injustices and economic struggles. This could very well speak to the economic advances of Black Americans. More of us are getting college degrees and moving to the suburbs. I remember when the Black church musical repertoire was full of songs of testimony and struggle and how it slowly began to focus more on worshipping God alone. I am not saying this is all we sung but it was the majority of what we sung. I was leading a music ministry during this time, so I remember the difficulty in making the shift. But it wasn’t just our churches making this shift, so was the Gospel Music Industry. Gospel Music Worship artists started popping on the scene following the path of Israel Houghton. However, I believe Gospel music is becoming true to its name and purpose. It is become more about God than keeping tradition and culture alive. There is a place for the roots of Gospel music to shine and be celebrated. There will be and should be artists making traditional Gospel music – real traditional Gospel music. There is still room for the choir, quartets, and a good hand clapping, foot stomping song. But we should never forget that we are Christian, and the Gospel comes first…not style, rhythm, race, or culture.

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