With the abolition of slavery in 1865 and the beginning of the movement of an emancipated black population
into the northern cities, the spirituals which had bound them together in hope no longer seemed so relevant to
their new situation. Existing spirituals were arranged ( sanitized would perhaps be a more accurate description )
into a European-style format, and in 1871 the Fisk Jubilee Singers
from Nashville became the first black choir to
travel abroad performing spirituals as a means of earning money for newly established African-American universities.
This initial attempt to take the music of worship out of the churches and into the marketplace represents the earliest
stirrings of what might be called gospel. It's soul however remained within the pentecostal black communities of the Holiness and Sanctified
churches and the independent churches of the black ghettoes which were forming in the burgeoning northern cities,
where the worshippers still expressed themselves in the traditional exuberant call-and-response routines of their African ancestors,
accompanied by ecstasy-inducing shouts, clapping, dancing and jumping.
It was this uniquely African-American style of worship which inspired the Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey
, an erstwhile blues and jazz musician,
to set up the first publishing house devoted solely to gospel music in 1932. This move, along with his discovery and launching
of the careers of some of it's greatest proponents - Ma Rainey, Mahalia Jackson
and Rosetta Tharpe
which led to the establishment of gospel as a viable commercial entity. Dorsey also wrote two songs which have become modern gospel classics -
"Take My Hand, Precious Lord"
and "Peace In The Valley"
, earning him the title of the "Father Of Gospel".
Rev. Dorsey set in motion a shift which gradually saw the gospel sound take hold across the southern states, largely via the "Gospel Highway",
a concert circuit which developed in the 1940's as a platform for great quartets like The Dixie Hummingbirds
and The Soul Stirrers
as well as for gospel divas and preachers to set out their wares.
Inevitably the top performers on the circuit began to be drawn towards the commercial rewards of the world of popular music, with the result that
pioneers such as Sam Cook, James Brown
and Ray Charles
combined gospel with the prevailing popular styles, producing breakthrough hit songs
which opened the door for the great practitioners of soul
to walk through.