Is Gospel Music headed to the same fate as Gospel Preaching ?

by Robert Earl Houston

DISCLAIMER: I need to begin this post by saying that I am speaking from a position as a not only a Pastor, but a musician/choir director/minister of music since I was 17 years old. I was raised in a gospel music environment provided by New Hope and Morning Star Missionary Baptist Churches in Portland, Oregon and sat at the feet of gifted people – Bill Jackson, Marci Jackson, Glenda Jackson, Naomi Houston (mom), Carolyn Allmon, Saul Kelley, Sr., Lorene Wilder, Dorothy Davis, Gilber Gill, Darlene Warren, Norman Wooding, Calvin Lowery, Michael Stone, and many others from our church and community. Further, I have maintained my gospel music training at every church I have served at – going from apprentice musician to a senior musician.

As I sit here, I believe that Gospel Music is in trouble. I’m not talking about the plethora of workshops and organizations – I mean the art and craft of gospel music. It’s becoming like some preaching – watered down, fad-like and off center.

Recently, someone sent me a video (and it’s one among many) of where a minister took the secular song, “Blurred Lines” and replaced the words with the Christian standard “Jesus is on the mainline.” Several in the audience were “whooping it up” and it was hard to distinguish, in my eye, between worship and twerking by some of the participants.

Gospel music is deadly serious to me. We have a generation of musicians and songwriters (mostly male) and in some cases, some of these same musicians and songwriters attend nor support anybody’s church. Groups are forming every day that have no problem leaving the sanctuary of their home church to “perform” somewhere else, especially if it’s a paid performance.

The trademark of Gospel Music has always been relational to three things:

a.  The powerful story of Jesus Christ.
b.  The powerful witness of God the Father.
c.  The powerful abilities of the Holy Spirit.

However, much of gospel music is written by one-hit wonders, who mix songs in the basement using drum tracks, and creating words that neither glorify God or invite others to praise our God or, fore mostly, are biblically correct.

I don’t mean any harm . . .

I don’t need a little more Jesus – I have the complete package at my conversion.
I’m not looking to go back to Eden – that state will never be realized again.

Pharrell Williams’ song, “Happy” is “turning up” in praise and worship settings across the country – but if you can’t tell me simply that Jesus is the one who makes me happy within the confines of lyrics, then, to me, it’s not appropriate for a worship setting. Worship is not about us, it’s all about Him.

Although it gets a lot of verbal abuse, for those of us who have attended the New Music Seminar and Mass Choir conferences at Gospel Music Workshop of America, we appreciate the “standard” that has been used to select music that is to be presented. A song may appear and after hearing it, it’s never heard again – because those delegates want to take home music that edifies, encourages, and reaches the soul.

I’ve had the pleasure to work with and be in the number of choristers with people like Virgie Carrington Dewitty, Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, V. Michael McKay, Donnie McClurkin, Margaret Douroux, Dr. Patrick Bradley, Dello Thedford, Walter Scrutchings, Damian D. Price, Oscar Williams, Malcolm Williams, William Barks-Dale, Terry Davis, Rodney Teal, ESQ, Rodena Preston-Williams, Steven Roberts, Helen Stephens, Shirley M.K. Berkeley, Eddie A. Robinson, Dr. Erral Wayne Evans, Bishop Richard “Mr. Clean” White, Teresa Aton, Kevin B. James, Carrie Lasley, Oscar Dismuke, Varanise Booker, Lan Wilson, Gregory Troy, Christopher Watkins, Anita Stevens-Watkins, Wendell Craig Woods, Professor Craig Hayes, Ronald J. Materre, and a plethora of others who write, re-arrange or present good, solid church music. Unfortunately, most of the stuff you hear on Christian radio will never be heard in a church because it’s fury no sound, beats without a rhythm, and a song without lyrics.

I love most forms of Christian music. I love the hymns of the church – and my church is right now going through 70 hymns in 70 Sundays because I don’t want my congregation to lose that link to our heritage. I love traditional gospel music, quartet music (my father and my father in the ministry were both quartet singers), anthems, shake-note singing, powerful traditional songs, and some (not all) contemporary music. My eyes will still swell up if a musician gets on the organ and with just one or two fingers start to line out “The Old Rugged Cross.” And yet, I can “Shabach” with you and I can “take you to church” with one of James Cleveland’s catalogue songs.

I pray that just like we say “Keep Christ in Christmas” that we won’t have to modify that mantra one day and say “Keep Christ in Gospel Music.”  However, I’m afraid that time is fast approaching.


14 responses

  1. A resounding “amen”.

  2. Rewv. Larry Thomas | Reply

    Not just in Music, but we need to keep Jesus in the Messages we preach. Amen Amen

  3. Rev. Orlando McReynolds | Reply

    And please don’t leave out the ‘Negro Spirituals”

  4. I am glad you were not afraid to address this issue. It is long overdue and the church is headed for a crash if they’re not careful.

  5. You are reminding the “now generation” about foundational matters. Too many of the “now generation” are only being excited about the color of the house and its design. Lets continue to make a joyful noise unto HIM with HYMNS about the Gospel.

  6. A double “AMEN!”

  7. I would like to use some of this in a book project I’m presently completing on gospel music’s legacy. I am teaching the Development of Gospel Music at GMWA in Atlanta.

  8. I agree with the demise of gospel. I would like permission to share some of this in my up-coming book project. I’m teaching the Development of Gospel Music at GMWA in Atlanta. Hope to see you there.

    1. I won’t be at Workshop this year, but you can reach me at

      1. Hello Pastor Houston,
        My book is published. I have a complimentary copy for you. Thanks for allowing me to use your insights in my analysis of 21st century Levites. Where shall I send it?

  9. Yes,
    I agree. I also feel that many of the so-called Gospel Musicians of today lack in foundation. A musician should be able to play Hymns. Every Hymn does not need a BEAT to it. Every Hymn is not meant to have drums. Learn to play the Hymns as is first, then you can apply Gospel techniques to them. Please learn the MELODY To THESE HYMNS, THEN you can improvise. A song based on a Hymn should be recognizable from the introduction. The lyrics are very moor taint and should be considered when ministering in song.

    1. I agree with your observation. I quoted this with permission in my latest book Anointed To Sing the Gospel: The Levitical Legacy of Thomas A. Dorsey. Those who lead worship services have the same charge and responsibility as the Levites in the Old Testament. True- Christ fulfilled the law – yet the temple existed during Christ’s life. The church was established by His apostles after His death. Accountability still exists for 21st century Levites.

  10. I love this Rev. I have lamented the lack of Christ in some of our Sunday services for a while now. Some singers and choirs seem to be more interested in ‘showing off,’ the things they can do with their voice than glorifying God with the words they say.

  11. A lot of these things were going on behind closed doors, and only recently is it being brought to light. It went unchecked by the true leaders of the church and now it has spread like cancer. We are dealing with the fruit of the bad seeds sown and watered by the previous generations. I heard it omce that what the parents did in secret the children will do in excess. I agree that something needs to be done about it, but how many are willing to lose their positions of influence to do so our walk away from the apostate conferences where foolishness like this and sexual perversion is running rapid.

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by Pastor Robert Earl Houston

H.B. Charles Jr.

About life, preaching, church, books, and other stuff.

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