Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"My Top 10 Gospel Music Pioneers"

There are many great artists  past and present in Gospel Music and not just the top 30 that you hear on the radio. However their are only a few who have really shaped our worship experiences and musical styles since the inception of Gospel Music and those are the true pioneers(some of which are living today). Pioneers are people who create new avenues of thought, research and development whereby we all can eventually benefit from. I need to say that there is a difference between great artists/singers and pioneers. I have listed MY Top 10 Gospel Music pioneers of all time along with a brief description. This list is fully debatable and I am sure that many of you could add or take away names based on your preference. This list is not in order of importance.

1. Thomas A Dorsey-  Most of us in Gospel have heard of Thomas A Dorsey, his story, his music and one of the greatest songs ever written "Precious Lord". He pioneered bringing Gospel Music into the church. During the Dorsey era, Gospel Music was considered to Jazzy an inappropriate for worship but Thomas pressed on and now musicians today have the freedoms to express themselves freely in worship through their playing and singing thanks to Thomas Dorsey. He caused the acceptance of the use of  Blues and Jazz chords on Sunday morning. 

His other pioneering contribution is the National Convention Of Gospel Choirs and Choruses which is held every year in August. This is the oldest Gospel Music convention in the world. Its a forum where people can come and learn how to sing, play, teach and learn new music to take back to their respective choirs and congregations.

2. Mahalia Jackson- One of the greatest singers of all time in any genre of music. Mahalia is a pioneer for bringing Gospel Music to the mainstream music community and to the World. She was well respected and cherished like Rock Bands in Europe. Mahalia Jackson is one of  the reasons why Gospel Music and American Gospel Artists are so loved in Europe. She is considered an American Music Icon not just a Gospel Music icon. 

3. James Cleveland- The King of Gospel Music and the founder of the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA), which is still the largest of its kind. The GMWA has been the starting block for too many artists to name. Without the GMWA, Gospel Music would be far less popular and advanced then it is now. Rev. Cleveland also helped so many artists and choirs across America by giving them a national platform through recordings that he spearheaded. With just his voice on an album, one was ready to go and purchase it.

4.Brother Joe May- Before there was a Bobby Jones there was a Brother Joe May. He hosted a show called TV Gospel Time(look it up on youtube). Joe May was a pioneer for bringing Gospel Music to Television. During his era, anybody who was doing anything in Gospel Music was on the TV Gospel Time. Joe May was also a great singer and artist in his own right.

5. Kenneth Morris-Many people, in this day and time,  haven't heard of Kenneth Morris but Kenneth was the Gospel Music publisher and transcriber for so many artists. His company (Martin and Morris Music Company) co-founded by Sallie Martin is the oldest Gospel Music Publishing Company. He played such a key role in preserving the music that is now golden to us and will live on through sheet music.

6. Richard Smallwood.- Richard Smallwood is and will forever be known as the one who gelled classical music with Gospel. His style of playing, writing and production is unique to him only. He has influenced generations of musicians, choir directors and singers all over the globe with his style of Gospel writing and singing.

7. Thomas Whitfield(The Maestro) - One of the greatest Gospel musicians and producers of our time. Besides his Gospel Music hits that are still being sung in churches today, his style of playing and writing has influenced so many of our mainstream artists such as Donald Lawrence, Fred Hammond and Kurt Carr. His musicianship like Richard Smallwood led musicians to a whole new style of playing Gospel Music especially in the Midwest portion of the United States and He was one of the first artists to display a different style of  worship after the song is over on his albums. A lot of our style of worship can be attributed to Thomas Whitfield approach to Gospel Music and worship.

8. Patrick Henderson- During his tenure as the Minister of Music at the West Angeles COGIC, Patrick Henderson, under the leadership of Bishop Charles Blake, is the one who introduced Praise and Worship music to the black church. It was not readily accepted but eventually it was through the recordings of West Angeles under his leadership that Praise and Worship, in the African American Church, is what it is today.

9. Kirk Franklin- Kirk Franklin is the most successful Gospel Artist of our time and his songs have raised up generations of young people into soldiers for Christ. His ability to draw Gospel and Secular audiences with his music has aided the church in reaching souls for Christ.

10.Edwin and Walter Hawkins- This dynamic duo is directly responsible for breaking Gospel Music into the mainstream with their 1960's hit "Oh Happy Day" which opened the doors for so many other artists like The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Kirk Franklin, William Becton and Yolanda Adams to receive the same airplay opportunities. Edwin and Walter Hawkins are one of the main reasons why we have music to sing on Sunday morning. They have written so many Sunday morning compositions which has added to the Spiritual fabric of so many across the world. "Oh Happy Day' penned by Edwin Hawkins is still thee most popular song in Europe and one of the most popular songs in the world Gospel or Secular. Every year Edwin Hawkins hosts the "Edwin Hawkins Music and Arts Seminar" which gives many artists and songwriters opportunities to share their gifts to a mass audience. 


11. Andre Crouch- I could not possible leave Andre Crouch off this list. He has given us so many songs for worship past and present. Songs such as "Jesus is The Answer", 'Take Me Back", "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus", "My Tribute", "Oh It Is Jesus" and lately "Let The Church Say Amen" and so many more. Andre Crouch is one of the few Gospel Artsts who appeared in church Hymn Books in the 80's and 90's.  Andre Crouch was one of the first Gospel Artists to appear on a network television show with appearance on the "Jeffersons". He is a consummate song writer with every lyric based on scripture. He along with his sister Sandra are true pioneers. You could literally sing a Crouch song every service for 6 months and not run out of songs to sing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Praise and Worship vs. Hymns

What is the real difference between a Praise and Worship song and a Hymn. Well here it is. The best analogy I can think of is the difference between fast food and a slow cooked meal. Praise and Worship songs are quick and easy songs designed to engage the worshiper. Praise and Worship songs are not meant to be complete works but rather a collection of simple versus and musical hooks with lyrics speaking directly to or about God. Hymns are complete musical works that often follow a pattern. The language of Hymns tend to walk you through this life and introduce you to life eternal. Hymns are a slow cooked meal. They don't always grab you or engage you right away. Hymns written in the earlier periods often require some understanding of the language before an appreciation can be developed. While Praise and Worship songs are designed to engage the worshiper right away, Hymns  are designed to grow and develop the worshiper. Praise and Worship sets the atmosphere while Hymns tend to preach the sermon.

It's important to have both in the lifestyle of the believer.  They both serve a greater purpose. I pity congregations who exalt one style over the other. It's not the style of Christian music that is the most effective but rather the attitude behind the music being offered up in worship. Many Pastors and Praise and Worship leaders have replaced Hymns with  Praise and Worship songs because the hymns were being presented poorly and  Praise and Worship songs do not require as much energy and time to learn, sing and produce. In other words,  fast food music was preferred over music which is rich in information about the One we worship. Many do not realize that the phrase "Praise and Worship Music" encompasses all Christian music. It's ignorant to say that one song is Praise and Worship and one is not when both glorify God in one way or another.  It bothers me to see that many of our churches, who only do Praise and Worship music, have relegated hymn singing to funerals and special occasions. Isn't it ironic that when a funeral happens we, all of a sudden, want to hear "Amazing Grace" or "Precious Lord". It also bothers me to see churches who refuse to embrace Praise and Worship out of fear that it may somehow replace the Hymn experience in worship.  When you understand the role of both then the intimidation will go away. Praise and Worship is no longer a phenomenon, it is here to stay and churches who refuse to embrace are also doing themselves a musical and spiritual disservice.

The slow cooked meal is always a necessary meal to eat although sometimes you need to eat a little fast food first as an appetizer for a boost. Praise and Worship music, as we know it today, serves as a spiritual boost to any dead situation. It also helps to have an anointed song leader who understands how to lead the congregation in singing Praise and Worship songs. Some of our greatest songs written to date have been Praise and Worship songs. Its important for every church to have a healthy musical diet. It keeps our spirits in a posture of expectation.

 Praise and Worship (Fast Food) can get the job done but Praise and Worship alone can also lead to spiritual and musical immaturity.  Hymns(slow cooked meal) have served a vital role in our lives as Christians but God has given us new songs to sing along with the Hymns that take us threw new experiences with Him. The most powerful services I have ever been in are the ones where the leaders and congregants understand, accept and apply both well in the worship experience.

Phillip Carter

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Gospel Music Industry vs. The Gospel Music Ministry

There are thousands of artists (Major and Independent) that are not only involved in the Industry of Gospel Music but also the Ministry of Gospel Music. I, like many of you, have one time or another, intertwined the two as one but they are different yet they can come together depending on the vision of the artist. The word "Industry" refers to the production of an economic good or service. (Wikipedia). It's important to understand that the Gospel Music industry can involve ministry but ministry is not the focal point. The focal point is the marketing, distributing and selling of products for money. Without money, an industry would fall and that's why so many artists and some major labels in the past have fallen because of the lack of financial resources due to various reasons. The Gospel Music Industry is comprised of major Corporations, small labels, mom and pop record stores,( which are vastly dying) promoters,media, marketers, publicists, radio personalities and churches.The industry is primarily ruled and influenced by major labels who have the necessary funding to reach the average Gospel Music buyer with their products and services. The labels products are their artists and the products they create(CD's, DVD's etc) and depending on the success of those products other residuals are created such as royalties, merchandise etc.

The Gospel Music Industry does not have to follow any moral or religious code nor do the artists they promote. They concentrate on making music that people want to hear. When major labels sign artists, they look at the talent and marketability of the artist. If lifestyles were a prerequisite to being signed by a label then there would be no labels because most of the artists that we know and love have lifestyles that wouldn't measure up. There would be no industry. Just think, if you only bought products from corporations and artists with whom you knew were operating by biblical principals, how easy would it be for you to get what you wanted although it would be interesting to know how many corporate executes, who promote Gospel Music, actually know Jesus as their personal Savior.  To the Gospel Music Industries credit, many songs, videos, songbooks and award shows have been beneficial to the everyday lives of Christians around the world. Gospel Music would not be where it is today if it weren't for the Gospel Music Industry but let's not spiritualize it folks. It is what it is. I'm in the industry and if I don't make money, I can't continue to make records and travel. Major planning and implementation makes major artists. Artists don't do well just because their anointed. Their are people in our local churches who are anointed and if they had the right business model behind them they would be selling records too.

The Gospel Music Ministry is different. When one is in the ministry of Gospel Music, their primary focus is the salvation and uplifting of souls. Many artists, major or independent, when they step on stage their goal is to minister God's music to the waiting audience or congregation. The ministry is not focused on money, although money is needed to survive, the ministering of music is essential to their mission in life. I would venture to say that most Gospel Artists make an attempt to minister Gods music every time they are offered an opportunity. However sometimes personal ambition and arrogance gets in the way.  The Gospel Music Industry and Ministry can walk together if the artist desires it to be so. When you are sold out for God your integrity means more to you than money. You thrive off of ministry and you let the ministry drive your business and not vice versa. I hear some of you saying now, I would prefer ministry over industry well let me tell you that without an Industry you and I would not be exposed to the ministries of most of our wonderful Gospel Artists.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"Losing a Generation of Young Church Musicians"

As I reflect back on my early years as a musician. I thank God for my father with whom I had the opportunity to play with on many Sundays and during the week in church. Most of the churches that I played  in were small and the music was somewhat behind the times. However it was at those humble beginnings that I learned how to be a church musician. I learned praise songs, hymns and spirituals. I learned that it was not about the money but it was about my relationship with God and His music. I learned how to teach parts and deal with people. I also learned how to work with and respect the Pastor. For a long time getting paid was not even apart of my vocabulary. In addition to playing in church, I also worked part time cutting grass after school and on weekends. When I finally started receiving some kind of compensation, my compensation started at $35 a service which included rehearsals. Later on, as I matured as a musician, my father and I decided that it was time to explore other church options because we had outgrown our current situation. WOW!! Those humble beginnings really paid off and I thank God for it as I reflect back now. I wonder how many young musicians have a similar testimony today? My guess is not many...

It seems that we are in some what of a crises as it pertains to the younger generation of church musicians. There is minimal integrity,  minimal knowledge of music repertoire, no anointing and not enough mentors to go around. Every Pastor that I talk to, that is looking for a musician to hire, all want the same thing. They want a seasoned musician but their are none to go around. A seasoned musician is one who has been trained with a certain measure of experience to handle a certain job. Seasoning has little to do with age. I was a seasoned musician at the age of 16 because of my father and the exposure that I had playing and directing at a young age. There is NOT a shortage of musicians but there is a serious shortage of seasoned musicians.  I am 36 years old and most of the musicians who are 10 years younger or more have become arrogant because of the early pedestals that some of us have put them on due to their exceptional abilities. They are demanding respect and competitive salaries with little to no training(musical and spiritual) and/or experience. They view music ministry as a way to pay their bills and gain popularity and not as a calling.

You may ask "How did this happen and who's to blame". Let's start with those of us who are seasoned musicians who have become so self-serving and self indulgent that we are no longer taking the time to mentor/teach the younger generation what it is to be a minstrel in the house of God. We no longer have the time to pass on what was freely given to us.  We are so focused on our own careers that we forgot to go back and help somebody else. I don't want to leave out the fact that many of us(musicians) are threatened by their musical abilities so we decline to mentor them so save our own jobs or positions. Next up is the Pastors who, out of desperation and lack of spiritual discernment, have and continue to hire these young musicians out of desperation and the need to keep up with today's church musical environment.  Just because someone knows the latest chords and chord progressions does not qualify them to be the next musical Moses to bring you out of your dark ages. Then after you hire them you do LITTLE TO NOTHING to invest in them as musicians and as people.

Thirdly is the parents who see dollar signs like their children and have allowed them to leave the nest too early without the proper training and spiritual development which has led to all kind of problems such as homosexuality, fornication and drugs just to name a few. Lastly its some of the Gospel Artists, who many look up to, who take these youngins on the road with them, in the name of cheap labor, and create a false sense of  reality by not explaining to them how they arrived themselves.  Everybody has to crawl before learn to walk.

This is an indictment on the church. The sad thing is that it is too late to save some of the musicians. They are LONG GONE and have been exposed to too much of the negative to turn around now. However we can save the ones we can and the new young musicians who are coming up with our mentorship, help and support.  Let's teach our younger generation to work for what they want out of life instead of handing it to them on a silver platter.

Phillip Carter