by Antoinette Jones

Gospel music is a term that encompasses several different styles of christian music reflecting a variety of christian traditions.

Traditional music is comprised of hymns and anthems and is expressed in a classical European style. This type of music is used in many protestant and catholic churches (Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, Roman Catholic, etc.) It was during the 19th century that white protestant ministers brought the message of the gospel to African slaves in colonial America. African slaves strongly identified with the teachings of Jesus Christ and began to incorporate the biblical themes of freedom and deliverence from pain and sorrow, and the hope of salvation into what is now known as the Negro Spiritual.

The Spiritual is an art form that combines elements of protestant religious music and traditional African song. This type of music served not only to tell the Gospel of Jesus Christ but also to tell the story of the African American transition from slavery to freedom. The spiritual was used as sacred music in African American protestant churches throughout southern American during the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. At the turn of the 19th century African Americans began to migrate north. They carried with them their traditions and their unique style of music. However, the change from a rural to an urban environment influenced not only their lifestyles but also their musical expressions. It was in the urban communities of the north where a new style of African American religious music, "Gospel music," was born.

Since the 1920's Black gospel music is the term that has been used to describe a sound stylized by blues pianist Thomas A. Dorsey. Black gospel music combines elements of protestant hymns, West African music, spirituals, and the blues. Ironnically, this type of music, considered inappropriate for worship services in the early twentieth century, is now a well established part of African American church services. From mass choirs to quartets and solos, Black gospel music should be seen and heard in order to experience it fully.

Southern or White gopsel music, borne of the white southern christian experience and folk traditions, combines elements of bluegrass and country music. It was the term used for religious music of southern European Americans when segregation and racial discrimination required a distinction between White and Black gospel.

There are other styles of gospel music that appeal to a wide variety of listeners. Contemporary and Urban Contemporary christian music are two styles of gospel music that have been particularly successful not only among younger generations but among non-christian listeners as well. Contemporary Christian music brings the gospel in the form of soft-rock. Heaven's metal is best described as heavymetal music with gospel lyrics. Inspirational music has a pop or easy listening sound. Jesus Rock is a contemporary "white" sound popularized in the late 60's and 70's by the Jesus movement when standard praise songs were transformed into songs with a more folk or rock and roll sound. Urban Contemporary Christian music can have a sound similar to R&B, Hip-hop, or "rap"(refered to as Street Poetry). Regardless of the cultural traditions in which they were borne, all the styles of Gospel Music bring the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and the world has begun to listen.


Antoinette Jones was born and raised in New York City. Her religious training began at Mt. Calvary United Methodist Church in central Harlem. She first began attending Baptist churches while a student at university. In 1990 she joined Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in central Harlem, (Wyatt T. Walker, Senior Pastor.) Ms. Jones developed her interest in Gospel music at Canaan Baptist Church where she enjoyed singing in two of the churches nine choirs. Gospel music is an important part of her heritage and her life.