Gospel Music Heritage Month draws to a close this week. However, gospel music lovers can continue to explore and celebrate gospel music’s rich history beyond the month of September by reading some of the best books available on this compelling and often life-changing genre. In order to provide readers with a comprehensive list, GME turned to DC esteemed gospel music historian and DC resident Bill Carpenter for recommendations.
Bill Carpenter is a leading authority on the history of gospel music and a prominent voice in the discussion of the genre’s evolution. He is the author of Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia which, according to Billboard Magazine, is “An invaluable and long overdue gem.” Readers can also see Carpenter providing commentary in Rejoice and Shout, the gospel music documentary released this year. The list begins with Carpenter’s much heralded book.
Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia. Bill Carpenter. This book is a must-have for any fan of gospel music. Uncloudy Days explores the history of the Father of Gospel Music,Thomas A. Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, the Hawkins family, Clara Ward, James Cleveland, the Winans and so many more. There are a multitude of interviews that include compelling anecdotes that reveal the triumphs as well as the trials and tribulations faced by gospel artists.
The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times – 25th Anniversary Edition. Anthony Heilbut. A complete history of gospel music that explores the relationship between gospel and other African American musical forms in America including jazz and R&B. The book discusses specific gospel music singers as well as the world of the gospel church itself.
“This book is the reason that I’m a gospel historian today. I read it as a teenager and it fascinated me.” ~Bill Carpenter
People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music. Robert Darden. From Africa through the spirituals, from minstrel music through jubilee, and from traditional to contemporary gospel the book shows the links between styles, social patterns, and artists. The book emphasizes the stories behind the songs and musicians. Contemporary artists such as Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams, and Kirk Franklin are also discussed.
When the Church Becomes Your Party: Contemporary Gospel Music. Deborah Smith Pollard. The author assesses contemporary gospel music as the genre enters the twenty-first century. She asserts that although the flashy clothing, informal language, and elaborate stage presentation found in some of the newest gospel music might not be what some worshipers expect, this new aesthetic rests on the same Christian principles as more traditional forms and actually extends its message to a wider and younger audience.
We’ll Understand It Better By and By: Pioneering African American Gospel Composers. Bernice Johnson Reagon. In 1973 while a graduate student of history at Howard University and vocal director of the DC Black Repertory Theater, Bernice Johnson Reagon formed the internationally renowned African American women’s acappela ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock. In this book, Reagon presents a collection of essays that focus on major figures in gospel music: Charles A. Tindley, Lucie Campbell Williams, Thomas A. Dorsey, William H. Brewster Sr., Roberta Martin and Kenneth Morris.
Hear Bernice Johnson sing “Old Ship of Zion”
Bill Carpenter also recommends these biographies of great singers from the golden age of gospel.
Great God A’mighty! The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Rise of Soul Gospel Music.Jerry Zolten. The Dixie Hummingbirds began in 1928 and the quartet group continues today.This award-winning book details their 80-year history in the gospel industry.
How I Got Over: Clara Ward and the World-Famous Ward Singers. Willa Ward-Royster. Clara Ward was widely acclaimed as one of the greatest soloists in gospel music history but was also a force in the early days of gospel music. Ward’s sister details their early years as well as life on the road.
Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Gayle Wald. Tharpe was a singer, songwriter and recording artist who gained popularity in the 1930s and 1940s with her unique mixture of spiritual lyrics and became well known for playing her guitar while singing. Tharpe was one of the first great recording stars of her era.