When it comes to gospel music, I’m no traditionalist. Having grown up in a charismatic non-denominational church, I heard (and saw) a bit of everything: mime, liturgical dance, hip-hop, CCM, rock, and those super sultry tunes that always seem to find ways to sample eight bars of the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets.” But every now and then, I’ll hear someone half-jokingly quip, “I like my gospel old-school, like M’Dear used to hum stirrin’ pot liquor on Soul Food Sundays, like the Mighty Clouds of Joy hooked up with the Dixie Hummingbirds and spawned a super-group.” Suffice it to say, some people just prefer a really traditional sound.
A few months ago, I caught one of Trinitee 5:7’s music videos and, aside from wondering when the trio became a duo, I was also wondering why the video concept was so dissonant. It didn’t connect to any specific Christian message, despite what the lyrics were saying (“Bring your praise”) beneath the hard-charging beat. It was definitely more pop diva than pulpit-inspired:
To each his own. I was never much of a Trinitee 5:7 fan anyway, but it does seem noteworthy how their sound and look have changed over the years. Is gospel out to push the envelope? Are its artists hoping to assimilate, both melodically and aesthetically, with artists in other genres?
BET’s reality gospel competition show “Sunday Best” routinely ponders these questions when the judges assess contestants. They’ll claim they want someone who sounds “anointed” and who wants to break into the gospel industry for “the right reasons”: to spread the good news of Christ. But they also want someone who’ll entertain, put on an interesting show, and have an evocative style or look. A few of its winners — Y’anna Crawley, LeAndria Johnson, and Amber Bullock have fit that bill — and two of those three pursued R&B careers before turning to gospel.
The two genres have often overlapped. But decades earlier, when the gospel industry sought to delineate the differences between the two in a clear-cut way, gospel sounded a lot … “churchier.” Choirs wore robes and sang either revamped hymns or songs with certain bible-based content. Quartets reigned. And few artists were pushing envelopes or trying to “cross over.”
Some argue those were the good old days. Others think the evolution of gospel has been good and necessary advancement. What do you think?