The mid-twentieth century was a vital point in the United States regarding the music being created, developed and listened to. The music that spread around this time was gospel music and this period between 1945 -1965 is commonly referred to as the “Golden Age.” There are a variety of people and factors that helped bring forth the era of gospel and history.
Two of the most influential parts of that include Mahalia Jackson and The Hummingbirds this helped to further convey the era of gospel in America. These are two of the pioneering forces that helped to bring gospel music into the light of the United States. These are some of the African Americans that helped to pioneer the sound of modern gospel music. The music created by these artists not only spread, but caused a shift from spirituals to gospels. The Great Migration to Chicago proved to be the epicenter of the gospel movement and just the stepping stone needed for them to be able to implement this new music. This Golden Age would not have been possible without Mahalia Jackson, she has been referred to as the Queen of Gospel Music. She was the among the original pioneers of this form of music and was based out of Chicago. This new sound became known as gospel music; gospel music is what marries sacred text to secular music.
From the beginning, gospel music challenged the church, and the African American religious leaders originally rejected the idea because of associations with the secular styles of music of the era such as ragtime, blues, and jazz. During this time, Jackson pledged to only use her voice and her musical talents for Gospel music. Gospel music began to be popular in Chicago churches, and Jackson was building a community of gospel musicians. Among this community of gospel musicians was Thomas Dorsey, who would later be known as the Father of Gospel music (TheBurtonWire). Dorsey was an African American composer and pianist who had migrated north with a vision similar to Jacksons. In using their common background, they could connect on a different level and took to the streets of Chicago to share their new Christian sound (The Queen Of Gospel).
The community of gospel musicians responded in a positive manner and the music began to grow and spread across the city. The vision for gospel music had come to life; in the midst of this spreading, they chose to be partners and to be a traveling act. This traveling act lasted until about 1944 the two took Chicago by storm and opened the doors to usher in the Golden Age of Gospel.
After traveling with Dorsey, Jackson found mainstream success in the late 1950s; she toured the world and recorded several albums for Columbia. She later appeared as a guest on “white” variety shows hosted by Dinah Shore, Steve Allen, and Ed Sullivan. The success extended to her getting a European tour, and an appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival (The Queen Of Gospel). Her congregational call-and-response style and her otherworldly voice made gospel music popular all over the world.
Another group that came out of this era were the Dixie Hummingbirds. The Dixie Hummingbirds began their musical career during the late 1930s as a jubilee-styled act; the group made its recorded debut album a year later and it was a hit (Ankeny). The Dixie Hummingbirds were part of the pioneering force behind the evolution of the modern gospel music; their music was based around an acapella quartet sound.
The Hummingbirds traveled around the South singing spirituals, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the group started to sing Gospel. At that time, they performed under three different names: The Dixie Hummingbirds in churches, the Swanee Quintet in Philadelphia, and the Jericho Quintet when at the Café Society; they would pick and choose each name to fit the occasion that they were performing in (Ankeny). It wasn’t until the early 1940s that the Hummingbirds migrated up north where they would be provided better opportunities with justice for African Americans and a way to get their music bigger than it already was. They were renowned for their arrangements, harmonies, and versatility. Their arrangements, harmonies, and versatility to grew more and became sophisticated and completed their development as a group. They later honed a style they dubbed “trickeration,” which is a note-bending distinguished by sensual lyrical finesse and staggering vocal intricacy. Their virtuosity was legendary to audiences throughout the mid 1940s; this acknowledged golden age of a cappella quartet singing (Ankeny) .
They earned recognition as the greatest Southern quartet of their generation and spread an even newer sound to the spiritual world of music.The mid-twentieth century proved to be a crucial point in the United States into creating gospel. Each of the pioneering forces that helped to create gospel each wanted to write music to express either personal and or communal belief regarding African American Christian life and give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music. Mahalia Jackson and The Hummingbirds envisioned venues in which they could make music that ties together the sacred and the secular in a way that had never been done before. Once Mahalia Jackson had done this with Thomas Dorsey, that one action set a chain reaction that would eventually turn into the Golden Age of gospel music.
Between the years of 1945 -1965, these artists and countless others were a part of the community of gospel musicians were people who wanted a new style of music. This new style brought the community together and was widespread all over the streets of Chicago to exploit the era of gospel music in America. People no longer had to sing, play or listen to just spirituals that the black church had to offer, this gave them new music that could give them the secular beats with the sacred text. Together in this time, these artists could turn the tide on spirituals and produce a sound that the world would soon love.