Where have all the Gospel musicians gone?

Andy Rau

Two music-themed items for you to ponder today:

First, according to a NYT piece from earlier this year, black churches are struggling to find musicians who are familiar with the gospel music traditionally favored by the church:

Music has been an essential element of African-American religion from its very beginning, when slaves combined the call-and-response songs of their lost homelands with the Christian hymns they absorbed in bondage. The result was both a body of liberation music for themselves and a profound influence on popular music in the United States and beyond. [...]

In the last generation, however, a variety of economic and artistic factors have interrupted this supply line. The emergence of rap music, which does not require a practitioner to sing or play any instrument, has reduced the number of African-American children skilled with keyboards and conversant with the gospel canon. Instrumental-music programs in public schools, which not only trained young people but also provided weekday employment to many church musicians, have been eviscerated by budget cuts and other classroom pursuits.

The article makes tantalizing reference to a topic that sounds like flamebait but surely needs fuller treatment in a future study: the "oddly parallel evolution of hip-hop, with its materialistic worldview, and evangelical Christianity’s increasingly popular strain of 'name it and claim it' theology, which views wealth as a reward for righteousness."

The GospelGal blog has some good commentary on the piece. She takes issue with the article's dismissal of modern and hip-hop musicians, which admittedly does have the ring of an older generation's contempt for the music of the younger generation. GospelGal has a great series of discussion-starter questions about this issue, so go read her post.

The second music-related link is over at Reformation 21, where Stephen Nichols has written an interesting piece about the theology of the blues. Can music, and in particular the blues, actually teach theology? Nichols says "yes," and demonstrates this with a study of the widow Naomi from the Old Testament book of Ruth.

Topics: Music