Community//

Oh Happy Day

Did you know that gospel music began in Los Angeles? Not the Deep South as you might expect … In South Central, L.A. was blossoming as a world center of sacred music. During the 60s and 70s, giants in the pantheon of gospel introduced this spiritual music into the realm of popular culture, and the […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Did you know that gospel music began in Los Angeles? Not the Deep South as you might expect …

In South Central, L.A. was blossoming as a world center of sacred music. During the 60s and 70s, giants in the pantheon of gospel introduced this spiritual music into the realm of popular culture, and the world has never been the same.

What we know today as gospel music is a blend of various elements of African American culture. Its roots are in West Africa where music was considered a potent connector to the spirit world, utilizing call and response singing, drums, and dance. After Africans were forced into slavery in the U.S., they merged this indigenous music with Christian hymns to form what was at the time referred to as “Negro Spirituals.” A form of worship also developed called “shouts” in which participants would shuffle in the center of a circle of musicians when they felt the spirit.

Like Pentecostalism, gospel music was not born in L.A. but came to prominence here. Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) from Chicago is considered the Father of Gospel music. However, when William J. Seymour’s preaching at the Bonnie Brae House (see page xxx) and the following Azusa Street Revival sowed the seeds for the worldwide Pentecostal movement in 1906, the staid hymns of traditional Christian churches were not a match for the exuberance of these new congregations. And so, a new form of African American sacred music evolved.

In 1967, gospel burst onto the international Top Singles charts around the world with “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers (if you haven’t heard this song, put this book down, open Spotify and listen RIGHT NOW). Thus was born the new category of Contemporary Gospel.

L.A. producers James Cleveland and Andraé Crouch were two giants of the Contemporary Gospel scene. James Cleveland (1931-1991), also called the Prince of Gospel, produced more than 190 albums, wrote and performed some of its most well-loved songs, and founded the Gospel Workshop of America, an annual convention nurturing many talented artists. He recorded Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace, the best-selling gospel album of all time.

Andraé Crouch (1942-2015) had a massive impact on religious music worldwide. He and his twin sister, Sandra Crouch (1942- present), multi-Grammy-winner in her own right, grew up in Pacoima and were initially Pentecostal. He is widely credited with bringing spiritual music into the mainstream and helping to bridge the gap between black and white. Crouch worked with Madonna on Like a Prayer and with Michael Jackson on his albums, Bad, Dangerous and History, as well as with Elvis, Elton John, and Paul Simon.

Another L.A. gospel star was Della Reese (1931-2017), a prominent singer, actress, talk show host, New Thought minister (see page xxx) and founder of her own The Up Church in Inglewood. The now defunct House of Blues on Sunset used to host a celebratory and always-sold-out Sunday Gospel Brunch. You can still get tickets in Anaheim, Las Vegas, or San Diego, or further east in Houston, Chicago, or Orlando.

Currently, GospoCentric Records in Inglewood is one of the most prominent gospel labels, hosting Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary, who have brought urban flavor to gospel. Sandra Crouch continues on as the Pastor of New Christ Memorial Church in San Fernando leading services each Sunday.

Gospel would not be as prominent today if not for its flowering in Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s. L.A.’s gospel music has brought faith, joy, and sustenance to millions worldwide.

© 2020 Catherine Auman

This is an excerpt from Catherine Auman’s book Guide to Spiritual L.A.: The Irreverent, the Awake, and the True

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    How a Polish-American Became an Expert in Black Gospel Music
    Community//

    How a Polish-American Became an Expert in Black Gospel Music

    by Laurel Delaney
    Community//

    Karima Kibble’s Maidenal Footsteps, Through the Color Of Gospelic Tunes! #BlackAmericanHer/History360

    by Lauren Kaye Clark
    Community//

    Jazzy, NOLA Sweetness, For the Sound Of Emma Barrett! #BlackAmericanHer/History360

    by Lauren Kaye Clark

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.