Gospel and Pop

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Gospel music as we know it today is the product of integrating the message and content of African American Spirituals and the jazz harmonies of the early 20th century. Thomas Dorsey is often credited with the melding of these two seemingly oppositional music styles, but thanks to his ‘Gospel Blues’, we now have some of the most enjoyable music to sing along with. Whilst there are many different styles of Gospel, from the quartet style to the contemporary praise and worship, in this article, I  will list and discuss Gospel covers of pop songs and pop-inspired Gospel songs to hopefully introduce you to one of the most joyful genres of music! The former refers to stylistic changes in the songs covered, whilst the latter refers to songs where the Gospel is shared through a more widely palatable, contemporary sound. Being a member of the Durham University Gospel Choir during my first and second years and holding the Co-Musical Director position in the latter  has given me insight into the wonderfully complex meshing of Pop and Gospel. Hopefully, my experience and insight into the style will give you, the reader, an easy introduction to the wonderful world of Gospel music.

Jealous (Gospel Version) – Nick Jonas

I was recently introduced to Nick Jonas’ Gospel cover of his song ‘Jealous’ by my Co-MD, Dan, when he taught it in one of our online Zoom rehearsals. Last year it was the group’s favourite song to perform! Released in November 2014, the cover is a fantastic blend of Pop music and Gospel vocals, where Jonas stands alongside a large Gospel choir and Organist to sing a radically different arrangement of this iconic track. The most striking difference, apart from the single instrument accompaniment, is the consistent triadic harmony. There are only a handful of moments where the vocal line is sung in unison, but this in no way impacts the flow of the song. Consistent triadic vocal harmonies can sometimes sound out of place in pop songs, but the arranger masterfully worked the harmony in such a way that these harmonies belong fully to the song. The vocal strength of the choir certainly helped with this transition. Despite their presence as a choir, I like how Jonas allowed some choir members to showcase their talents with short solos, which were filled with riffs and runs; seeing the group’s energy in the music video definitely made me ‘jealous’ of their fun and reminisce of the similar experiences I’ve had when performing with my own Gospel choir, which had understandably been taken away due to COVID-19 regulations from March 2020 to June 2021. 

Most Precious Love – House Gospel Choir

Originally released in 2006 under Blaze and Barbara Tucker, ‘Most Precious Love’ is an upbeat EDM track with an easy melody line and a distinct recurring backing vocal phrase. However, House Gospel Choir (HGC) took this hidden gem and amped up the vocal prowess. I first found the group through their song ‘Gabriel’, which is a beautiful blend of soft phrasing and powerful vocals, and following the release of their album RE//CHOIRED, I have been obsessed – and their cover of ‘Most Precious Love’ is probably my favourite! The distinct recurring phrase in Tucker’s original version now becomes the centrepiece, with each vocal part belting their harmony, giving the phrase a much fuller sound. Furthermore, the soloists do not confine themselves to the original melody and phrase structure and instead follow the drive of the backing vocals. This is what I love about this cover and HGC in general. They can take something good on its own and take it to a whole new level, simply by having highly skilled vocalists make up their choir. I also love how, in contrast to the original, members of HGC speak words of affirmation and uplift the listener before the melody kicks in. Their album RE//CHOIRED is a clear demonstration of their talents and is a fantastic introduction to the Gospel vocal style for anyone who has a background in electronic and house music. The group is arguably a revolutionary force in the Gospel scene, which I certainly tried to emulate in my song-choice, arranging, and teaching for DU Gospel over the 20/21 academic year.

Your Spirit – Tasha Cobbs

Turning now to a pop-inspired Gospel song, I present ‘Your Spirit’ by Tasha Cobbs feat. Kierra Sheard, which, if you’re familiar with the works of Tori Kelly, Kirk Franklin, or Hillsong, will be right up your alley. Differently from the last two recommendations, this song would likely be a better introduction to Gospel music for those from a Christian background, as the content of the lyrics is rather explicitly Christian. I want to share this song as I believe its inspiration from contemporary musical stylings through a catchy, singable melody and a verse-chorus structure, will be the most comfortable for a Christian who is familiar with pop to be introduced to some key Gospel stylings. The song’s stylistic features are similar to that of Hillsong’s music, but with arguably far stronger vocals by the soloists and choir. Cobbs’ music is of the contemporary worship style, but the strength of the vocals and triadic harmony is what gives her songs a Gospel flair. For those from a Christian background and familiar with worship music, Cobbs is arguably the best gateway to other Gospel music of all varieties. 

With that, this list comes to an end. I hope that, in presenting covers and original music with different inspirations, I have provided an introduction to Gospel music for people of many different backgrounds and potentially piqued your interest in attending a DU Gospel performance!

Gospel Love (from Abroad),

Tomos x

Illustration by Verity Laycock

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