How Gospel and House Music Created a New House Style

At first glance, the idea of gospel house music might seem a bit strange. After all, the marriage of club and dance culture with the religious message of gospel does seem a bit out of place. Closer examination, however, reveals that these two seemingly different musical genres actually have a lot of common ground, and in fact, represent a clear evolution of classic soul and dance music that stretches back to the 1960’s.

The first step towards understanding the origins of gospel house music is to leave your preconceptions at the door. This is a tough thing to do, because almost everyone associates gospel with choirs, church and prayer, while house music has been largely the province of huge sound systems, flashing lights and an overdose of sensuality. If you peel back the layers of each genre, however, you will discover that at the core, each of these musical styles has strong roots in spirituality. Both house and gospel music have always been about making an ethereal connection with a greater energy, and whether this energy happens to be found on a throbbing dance floor or in the arms of God, the overall idea is the same.

Further strengthening the ties between house and gospel music are the soul and R&B classics that were recorded in the 1960’s and 70’s. Much of the lyrical content and song structure of these heartfelt gems can be traced back to spirituals and gospel standards that classic soul artists were raised on. It was only natural that they incorporate these elements into their own songs. By extension, house producers in the 1980’s and 90’s had been heavily influenced by the sounds of Motown and Stax, and this shone through especially in their sampling, with James Brown becoming possibly the most sampled artist in history.

It was no unusual, then, that some house producers began to experiment with combining the soaring vocals of gospel with the dance beats of traditional house music. Generally, choir sounds were avoided but both male and female lead vocals meshed perfectly with modern house. Gospel house music was also able to eloquently express the themes of unity and love that frequently found themselves voiced by house singers. Masking some of the religious message that was usually part and parcel of gospel music, house producers would most often include only lyrics that referenced a vague higher power or a broader spirituality.

There is of course another side to gospel house music that chooses to celebrate the Christian religion. Some pastors and congregations have used this style of house to reach out to a younger demographic than they are usually used to seeing in their churches. Unlike Christian rock and roll, which at times seems out of step with the rebellious image typically associated with the music, religious gospel house manages to avoid the awkwardness that can sometimes plague popular religious music.