Traditionally, the word "gospel" is referred to the proclamation of God's saving activity in Jesus of Nazareth and to the message, announced by Jesus or to the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and some other canonical works that tell about Jesus' life, death and resurrection.
The use of gospel to denote a particular literature genre dates back to the 2nd century. The Gospel music is referred either to religious music that first came from African-American churches, or to, separately, the black gospel music and the music, composed and performed by white southern Christian artists. In spite of the fact that the subdivision between these two still exists, the artists of the both streams either appear only in the religious contexts or perform the gospel music in secular places, even in nightclubs.
The black gospel music had a peak of its popularity in the 40s and 50s; however, some genres are still popular. The stylistic origins of black gospel are spirituals, blues and hymns. The contemporary gospel music in the U.S. is primarily associated with African-American religious music, based on church choirs and led by extremely excellent soloists. However, this form has been introduced not earlier than eight years ago. The previously presented music is entirely different from this image. The pioneers, having popularized the gospel music, such as Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Willie Mae Ford Smith, used more free forms of speaking or singing spontaneously about the Christ, their faith and experience, sometimes even dancing during the performance.
In the 1920s, the artists mixed religious themes with blues, barrelhouse and boogie-woogie techniques and introduced jazz instruments into the church. Thomas Dorsey took great efforts to develop this new music genre, touring with Sallie Martin, selling sheet music and organizing an annual convention for the gospel artists in spite of tremendous resistance of more conservative churches, which regarded the gospel music worldly and sinful. Other black religious musical styles were gradually subjected to the influence of new gospel music. The most famous groups of the 30s were male quartets or small groups, such as Golden Gate Quartet, which added popular sounds from pop groups to religious gospels.
The gospel music development came finally to its golden age (1940s-1950s), during which it achieved even more stylistic freedom and a great amount of singers started their careers. A number of women singers, such as Mahalia Jackson, Bessie Griffin and Roberta Martin, became popular along with quartet groups. From the 60s, the gospel music began to acquire its present "form". Cleveland and Alex Bradford started the era of mass choirs. The most popular large organizations of this kind are The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and The Mississippi Mass Choir.
Simultaneously, such stars as Andrae Crouch, CeCe Winans and Take 6 preffered to add pop elements into the gospel performances, while the others turned to the hip hop culture. The Gospel music had a great influence on the early rhythm and blues performers. Soul music, which is still popular nowadays, is an introduction of gospel into the rhythm and blues. Many prominent soul performers (Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Picket and Al Green) had roots in the church and used much of the gospel music.