Research Inspiration : Women are center stage in Black Gospel history

Welcome to our inaugural post of the Research Inspiration Series. This series will highlight Baylor University faculty recommendations for research questions or areas of inquiry in our collections.

We are honored to partner with a few of our women faculty members from the Baylor School of Music to celebrate Women’s History Month and investigate research into the women who were critical figures in the early days of Black gospel music. Join us as we dive into the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project collection. This collection of digitized sound recordings captures the “Golden Age of Gospel” covering the years between 1945-1975 and consisting of 78s, 45s, LPs, and the various tape formats issued in the United States and abroad.

Black Gospel Restoration Project

If you are new to this collection or this part of our history, it can be hard to craft a first question and know how best to use this material for a research project. Not to worry, our faculty have provided some suggested research topics for you!

Start by investigating the collection:

Here is a link to more information about this collection:   Black Gospel Music Restoration Project
To hear one of the recordings featuring Sister Rosetta Tharpe – go to page 4 to hear
Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – New York Public Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Choose your research question:

The Music

  • What are some of the most frequently recorded hymns during the golden age of gospel music?
  • What are some of the most frequently recorded spirituals during the golden age of gospel music?
  • The hymns of Fanny Crosby, a white 19th-Century Northern US hymnwriter, were widely sung in Black churches. Which Crosby hymns were most frequently recorded during the gospel age of gospel music?
  • What types of songs comprised the recorded repertoire of early women gospel singers?
  • What was the balance of hymns/spirituals and newly composed gospel songs on their recordings

Monique Ingalls (Associate Professor of Music, Graduate Program Director, Church Music)

Issues of Gender / Race

  • In church music, have there been changes in the status of Black women since the early to mid 1900s?
  • Specifically, have things changed for current Black women musicians/church musicians? If so, what are those changes?
  • Finally, are there still common issues that Black women musicians— singers, arrangers, conductors — battle in current society and how do we overcome those? The same could be asked of all women, in general, I think. (I don’t think it is limited only to Black women or even women of color.)

Lynne Gackle (Professor of Ensembles, Mary Gibbs Jones Chair in Music, Director of Choral Activities)

Mahalia Jackson courtesy of Dave Brinkman (ANEFO), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Singers / Musicians

  • What kind of music training (formal or otherwise) did these gospel composers and performers have?
  • Did the women have access to the same training and education as the men?

Jamie Van Eyck (Associate Professor of Voice, Director of the Division of Vocal Studies)

Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

The Composers / Arrangers

  • There is a rich history of spiritual arrangements for solo voice and piano written for art song recitals in the United States. Who were some of the first Black female composers to arrange spirituals for solo voice and piano?
  • What original art songs did these composers create?
  • How did celebrated operatic performers like Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, and Shirley Verrett help to promote these composers and their arrangements?

Amy Petrongelli (Assistant Professor of Voice)

Marian Anderson – National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Group Discussion Ideas

  • Write short reflections about why a particular song was important in their spiritual or personal lives.   Use these reflections to consider the impact of gospel music in a community.
  • Pick an album by a single group, such as the Davis Sisters. Assign each student a different song and then see what themes and musical traits emerge when you put all the analyses together.
  • The collection includes a number of compilations that feature music by multiple artists (i.e., the Best of Gospel). How many tracks are sung and/or composed by women? How many are by men? Are there textual or musical differences between the tracks on the recording, such as differences in tempo, instrumentation, or form? Do any of these seem associated with the performer’s gender
  • Pick a single by a women artist or female group and analyze its words. What characteristics does it exhibit? Is it a song of praise, for example, or a lament? A call to action or a prayer for strength? Does it recount a story? Does it use first person singular (I) or plural (we) or third person? What images or metaphors do the words contain?

Laurel E. Zeiss (Associate Professor of Musicology)

We hope you are inspired to begin research in this rich collection. Many thanks to our Baylor School of Music faculty for providing excellent research questions.   For more resources check out our guide here: Black Gospel Research

Let us know if you would like any additional help!  Arts_Research_Center@baylor.edu   We look forward to your successful scholarship in the stories of these amazing women in history!

Many thanks to Andrea Turner for her help in building resources for the guide and Eric Ames for his marketing advice.

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