Black Gospel Music and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame

The Most Memorable Black Gospel Performances

Gospel music is a religious form of music that has widespread popularity and a long history. Both white and black artists and congregations sing gospel music. However, the two groups frequently find themselves singing two distinctively different forms of music. White gospel music is often referred to as Southern gospel music, whereas traditional gospel music is referred to as black gospel music.

Black gospel music sprang from the spiritual music of the late nineteenth century that occurred throughout the southern states of the United States. It expresses the Christian experience in a lively and meaningful manner. The words of the music portray a message of hope and salvation. Since much of the music sprang from the African-American churches of the early twentieth century, the black cultural experience is at the very center of the music.

Black gospel music is a lively expression of rural folk life blended with music, poetry, dance, and dramatic expressiveness. The manner in which the words are expressed is just as important as the words themselves. Often, gospel music is interactive in nature. The gospel experience belongs not only to the choir but also to the congregation. Today, black gospel music choirs are larger than ever, producing an even more exuberant musical experience.

The separation between the two types of gospel music is societal rather than anything else. Although songs from the two traditions are very distinctive, artists from either tradition will sing songs belonging to the other. The expressiveness and soul of the music is apparent in both forms.

Gospel Music Hall of Fame

In 1971, the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame was established by the GMA foundation for the recognition of artists of gospel music and their contributions to society. Established in 1964, the GMA Foundation is dedicated to the promotion of the gospel through music. The GMA has over 4,000 members who are dedicated to the celebration and proclamation of the gospel through music.

Among the singers who have been inducted are Al Green, Billy Graham, Mahalia Jackson, Elvis Presley, The Oak Ridge Boys, Pat Boone, and Petra. Most inductees have been recognized for the influence of their work or its longevity.

The GMA Music Awards recognize the achievements of many gospel music artists. All genres of gospel music are considered for this award, including praise and worship, country, contemporary, pop, rock, children’s, urban, and Southern. The awards are given to several artists on an annual basis during a ceremonial function that is open to the public.

Top 10 Gospel Music Video Performances

Gospel music has always been a part of my life and I cherish the classic hymns along with the new Gospel tunes that inspire us, motivate us, give us hope, and help us keep our faith in God. Here are my top 10 favorite Gospel music video performances.

Carrie Underwood sang How Great Thou Art live at the Grand Ole Opry

Carrie Underwood sang How Great Thou Art

It is hard to imagine that any performance of How Great Thou Art could top my love for Elvis Presley’s version of my favorite Gospel song. Carrie Underwood brought me to tears with her stunning performance of How Great Thou Art, singing live from the Grand Ole Opry. Carrie was nominated for a 2009 Gospel Music Dove Award for this performance. The beloved Gospel classic song was my Grandma’s favorite Gospel song, too.

Chris Tomlin singing Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone from the movie trailer for Amazing Grace

The movie Amazing Grace, based on the life of antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce, was one of the most inspirational movies I have ever watched. The song Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (played by Albert Finney in the movie Amazing Grace) and is one of the most beloved hymns of all time. Newton wrote Amazing Grace between 1760 and 1770 while working as an evangelical pastor. Before his religious transformation, Newton was the captain of a slave ship for many years, transporting African slaves to Europe across the Middle Passage. The conditions on the ship were inhumane, and many of the African slaves died before reaching Britain. During a violent storm on the seas one night, Newton repented and regretted the misery he had inflicted on the thousands of human slave cargo he had transported by ship. Newton decided to devote his life to the Church and wrote the lyrics to Amazing Grace as a way to repent. Gospel music superstar Chris Tomlin did the song for the movie.

George Strait sang I Saw God Today

This song is George Strait’s 56th number 1 hit song. This Easter, when the world faces a global economic crisis and family members struggle to make ends meet, the song I Saw God Today is an inspiration for us all. We must know that God is with us, God loves us, and our faith in God and all his loving glory shall not be torn. This Easter, download I Saw God Today onto your MP3 player and walk through the park, finding God in everything. Have hope and keep the faith.

Chris Sligh sang Empty Me on the Gospel Music Channel

American Idol Season 6 fave Chris Sligh grew up in Germany, where his father was a Chaplain for American troops. Chris loves Jesus and his wife. He has devoted much of his singing career to Gospel and Christian music, and his song Empty Me is nominated for a Dove Award. The inspirational song Empty Me is from the Chris Sligh CD titled Running Back to You. You can vote for Chris Sligh as Gospel Music’s New Artist of the Year in 2009 by visiting The Dove Awards website.

Michael W. Smith singing A New Hallelujah

Over the past 25 years, Michael W. Smith has sold over 15 million albums and won 42 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, 3 Grammy Awards, and an American Music Award. In February 2009, Michael W. Smith was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Michael and his wife, Debbie, have five children and started Rocketown, a safe and productive place in Nashville devoted to teens. The song A New Hallelujah is a celebration of nations coming together. Love it!

Jordin Sparks singing You’ll Never Walk Alone

The song You’ll Never Walk Alone is from the musical Carousel. In the musical, Julie’s husband, Billy, kills himself after a botched robbery. Billy returns to Julie from the afterlife to encourage Julie and her cousin Nettie and let them know that he still loves them. During his visit, Nettie sings the song to Julie. Oftentimes, when I feel that maybe God is not hearing my prayers, I play You’ll Never Walk Alone, bring out my Footprints bookmark, and keep my faith. It is one of my favorite songs, and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks knocked it out of the park!

Elvis Presley singing Oh Happy Day

Elvis Presley’s Ultimate Gospel CD has sold over 250 million copies in the United States alone. Elvis Presley is considered the King of Rock ‘N Roll and was nominated for 14 Grammy Awards, but it was Elvis Presley’s Gospel music that won him his only 3 Grammy Awards and the title King of Gospel Music. Elvis Presley and his versions of Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art are classic Gospel music favorites, but this rare video of Elvis singing a live performance of Oh Happy Day, based on an 18th-century hymn, will lift you up and give you hope.

Josh Groban and The African Children’s Choir singing You Raise Me Up on Idol Gives Back

Josh Groban exploded onto the Gospel music scene with his song You Raise Me Up. The song is one of the most inspirational songs ever written, and Josh Groban is one of the most loved performers of the 2000s. Despite Josh Groban’s appearance on the 2001 Season Finale of Ally McBeal and at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics Closing Ceremonies, Josh Groban became a household name after releasing You Raise Me Up. Another one of my favorite Gospel songs by Josh Groban is his version of Ave Maria. Oh Lord, what a gift you gave us in Josh Groban!

Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Battle Hymn of the Republic

We cannot list the great Gospel songs of all time without listing the most famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir song and spiritual tribute to our fighting troops in the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the world’s fighting men and women as we pray for your safety. God bless you and your families forever.

Odetta and Tennessee Ernie Ford singing What A Friend We Have in Jesus

If you are as old as I am, you can hardly mention Gospel music without thinking about Odetta, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Mahalia Jackson. I grew up listening to Gospel recordings by these legendary artists. What A Friend We Have in Jesus is one of the most popular Gospel hymns and was also recorded by other artists like Dolly Parton, Patti Page, and Amy Grant.

Nancy Vawter
Nancy Vawter

Nancy Vawter has been a reporter and writer since shortly after her graduation from the University of Arizona. She spent seven years with the New York Post, working as a national feature writer in New York. She later taught journalism as an assistant professor at American University in Washington.