African American Community

By 1945, nearly everyone in the African American community had heard gospel music (2). At this time, gospel music was a sacred folk music with origins in field hollers, work songs, slave songs, Baptist lining hymns, and Negro spirituals. These songs that influenced gospel music were adapted and reworked into expressions of praise and thanks of the community. Although the harmonies were similar to those of the blues or hymns in that they shared the same simplicity, the rhythm was much different. The rhythms often times had the music with its unique accents, the speech, walk, and laughter which brought along with it synchronized movements. (2)

The gospel piano style was based on the rhythm section concept, where the middle of the piano was used to support the singers. This area supported the singers by doubling the vocal line in harmony. The bottom, left corner of the piano was used as a bass fiddle while the upper right hand portion played the counter melodies, taking the place of a trumpet or flute. It was the right hand corner that filled in the material during the rhythmic breaks. Often times the text of the gospel songs portrayed meanings of the Trinity, blessings, thanks and lamentations. The singers used the voices to communicate their feelings about Christianity. Many singers sang through the problems and moved their audiences, often congregations, so much so that the audience forgot their own problems temporarily and the weights of the world were taken away through the music. (2) During the beginning of the Golden Age of Gospel (1945-1955), gospel music reached a near perfection and had a huge, devote audience. The call and response form in particular flourished in the new type of music. The African American gospel song had a unique power and ability to overcome. It was a means of transcending the listeners, singers and entire congregation to a higher spiritual and emotional level. During the post-Civil War years, the congregation style of singing was transformed by the new Pentecostal congregations, also known as Holiness and Sanctified. (5)

African American gospel music was a twentieth century phenomenon which evolved through the people that moved from rural communities to urban centers in cities. They left their areas of limited promise and social and economic terror in hopes of starting over. (4) Gospel was s style of repertoire and singing. The music was delivered as a high powered spiritual force. The emphasis was placed on the vocal rhythms. Gospel music combined call and response forms, with slow-metered , lined out protestant hymns.

Born in 1912, Mahalia Jackson was the third of six children. Growing up in segregated, racist times, Mahalia lived in what she called a "shotgun shack". White folks owned the bars and grocery stores of the neighborhood. Blacks were left with the left over jobs, often working for white families, or working on the railroad tracks. Mahalia’s father found work on the riverfront, dock towns and on the boats. On Sundays, her father worked preaching in a Baptist church. For as hard as her parents worked, money always seemed to be short. When Mahalia was only five years old, her mother died. Her father remarried and acquired a whole new family with the marriage. Although she never earned any pay for her work, Mahalia began doing chores for her Aunt Duke after school. Both sets of Mahalia’s grandparents were born into slavery and she was doomed to head the same way. When Mahalia was in eight grade, she began to look for work outside of her aunt’s chores and got a job as a laundress. (4)

When Mahalia finally became famous, she always demanded her payments in cash, paid up-front. The reason for her requests was because often times during her childhood years, they never received the payments they worked hard to receive. They would often be cheated out of their sums because plantation owners claimed that the money they earned was equal to their fees for room and board. (1)

When Mahalia was just a small child, everyone that knew her agreed that she possessed something special. At eight years old, she had an uncommonly large voice. Using her talented voice both in and outside of church, she gained much praise. She of acquired a rich range spirituals and hymns. (5)Living