The origin of the gospel is deeply rooted in the slave camps and the Protestant evangelical religion in the 18th century. It is an evolution of the Negro spirituals in turn connected with the work songs from which they took the characteristic call-response style or what is the same; the call of the soloist and the response of the chorus. These songs are probably the rosetta stone of all popular music. It is probably the first open and participatory musical form, which promotes a melodic counterpoint between the soloists, the choir and the audience.
The Negro spirituals, beyond being prayers, became the seed of the African American community conscience, a source of hope, salvation and freedom. The slaves were forbidden to learn to read or write and it was in those spiritual songs that they found the crack for rebellion, the way to reaffirm their identity, to evoke the mother earth. They had been stripped of any rights: they were not masters of their body, they were not masters of their life, they were not masters of their time, nor of their destiny. But they had the voice and the spirit. And they turned it into a weapon of resistance.
Coded escape messages began to creep into their melodies that contributed to causes such as The Underground Railroad, the web woven by abolitionist whites and ex-slaves to help those still under the yoke escape to safe ground. People known as “drivers” guided runaway slaves. The hiding places included private homes, churches, and schools. These were called “stations”, “safe houses” and “warehouses”. The people who operated them were called “station chiefs.”
Gospel and its heyday in the 1930s.
With the abolition of slavery, the African American community suffers a split in the way of understanding religion and its rites.
Contrary to what the general public believes, the gospel does not speak exclusively about God, sometimes they use passages from the Bible as a metaphor to narrate suffering and faith as the engine to escape from it and reach paradise, which was none other than independence . They kept the lyrics of the times of slavery, verses that the preachers used during their sermons so as not to forget where they came from: the pain of the slaves, the hunger, the struggle and the path to autonomy.
The role of the church, reverends, and music in the development of African American idiosyncrasy is key. It is not by chance that the first civil rights speeches were there. It is not either that they were the shuttle for most of the legends of blues, jazz or soul such as Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding or Whitney Houston. In a world that denied them public space, political tribunes, appearance in the media, the temple was the closest thing to a hemicycle and the pulpit to a stage. The masses served as rallies.
They found in gospel a way to meet, to perpetuate the idiosyncrasy that they had tried to extinguish with the whip, for injustice to be reflected in search of a repair that did not come, that probably will never come.