Are Whites Taking Gospel Music?

By Jones, Lisa C. | Ebony, July 1995 | Go to article overview

Are Whites Taking Gospel Music?


Jones, Lisa C., Ebony


"You're taken my blues and gone. You sing 'em on Broadway and you sing' em in Hollywood Bowl, and you mixed 'em up with symphonies and you fixed 'em so they don't sound like me...."

When Angelo Tortes nabbed the Dove Awards' top honor for best Contemporary Black Gospel Recorded Song this spring, many were stunned. Some were offended because the Christian awards show is the only major awards program to categorize music by race; for others, it was the very idea of an Italian singer and his latino wife being cited for the best Black gospel recording of the year.

This is just one of many recent incidents that raise big questions about the future of the music that came out of Black urban churches in the 20s and '30s and changed the tone of American music forever. In fact, many Blacks have suggested that history is repeating itself and that Whites are taking, or trying to take gospel music, the same way Langston Hughes said they took - or tried to take - blues and spirituals.

Some gospel artists openly admit to having mixed feelings about gospel's new White ambassadors. "I sometimes feel that because gospel music is really getting to those places that we have hoped it to be for so long that now they want a piece of it," says Grammy Award-winning artist Hezelkiah Walker. Yet, Walker adds, "There are some Caucasian sisters and brothers who really love Black gospel and study it."

There are others who are flat-out skeptical of this trend. Says gospel singer, songwriter and pastor Daryl Coley: "If we really look at history in every culture, anywhere the Anglo-Saxon man shows up, the first thing he tries to do is eradicate the history and culture of the people, adapt to that genre and then turn around and say, Look at what I have created,' which is what they did with jazz and blues. We need to stop looking for other people to validate the things that God has given us and not allow it to be prostituted or given up."

Coley goes so far as to say that it is nearly impossible for Mute artists to imitate gospel's truest form. Wen I sing' I'm not just singing about Daryl's experience. I'm singing from the experiences of my ancestors and what they've gone through," the noted artist explains. "You can try to do all of the vocal melismas, but it's very difficult for you to come from the experience of [gospel] like we do as a race of people."

Although White singers like the Petruccis, Carman and Amy Grant have made significant strides in popularizing gospel music, it is the African-American experience that adds true meaning and depth to this musical form, says John P Kee, whose lively testimonial style of gospel has won him fans on both the gospel and contemporary Christian music charts. "Gospel music is a part of who I am as a person," explains Kee. "It's the hand-clapping, foot-patting, throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air kind of music my granddaddy taught me as a child, and that can't be easily replicated."

It is because of the cultural connection tied to gospel that Black artists are often incensed by the small role African-Americans have played on the Nashville-based Dove Awards program. According to its sponsor, the Gospel Music Association, the 26-year-old awards show honors all forms of gospel music; yet, just four of its 30-plus categories are reserved for Black-oriented gospel, and those awards are typically given during pre-telecast production. …

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