On an unseasonably breezy August afternoon in 1963, Dr. But first there would be songs, untamed by social order, from a dignified, 260-pound African American queen who contorted her face, jerked her body and chomped on lyrics as if a legacy of suffering flowed through never Alone – Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Glorious Hymns. Could any name better fit the physical and spiritual embodiment of Mother Church?

There’s a song in those syllables. Well, my soul looks back and wonders how I got over. It took several minutes for the energized crowd of 200,000 to settle down, then Dr. King stepped up to the podium. It was appropriate that the Civil Rights movement adopt as its soundtrack a style of music rooted in the African American struggle against opression.

The church has long provided a sanctuary for those who wish to express their blackness in all its glory. Mahalia Jackson would sing for Dr. Dorsey in the midst of paralyzing grief. That gospel standard would be sung again, four years later, when Jackson, the most powerful black woman in America, passed on at age 60.

When it was over the audience applauded, unusual reaction at a funeral, but not everyone approved. Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls, the Staple Singers, Johnny Taylor, Billy Preston and Dinah Washington, began her singing career in the gospel field or that she was always quick to acknowlege such church singers as Clara Ward, Marion Williams and Bessie Griffin as influences. 40s when she sang religious songs with an 11-piece jazz band. Clara Ward and the Ward Singers, meanwhile, were openly chastized when they traded their choir robes for sequined gowns and took their act to Las Vegas. Though they meet an hour before dawn, Saturday night and Sunday morning are polar opposites in the minds of many purists. But what is the gospel music of syncopated handclaps, thumping pianos and wailing vocalists if not, simply, spiritualized secular music? Dorsey began his career as a juke joint piano player.

But you can’t diminish the importance of the words in these sermons set to music. The power, the rhythm, the urgency of great gospel music springs from lyrics of praise. The blues singer is all alone in this world, but the gospel singer is part of a family of faith. There’s a sense of stability, an air of confidence in the fundamental African American Christian belief that God has control over every aspect of their being. For every great church singer who went on to the pop charts, there are hundreds, thousands maybe, equally gifted, who stayed loyal to gospel.

These include the great quartet singers Rebert H. There are also incredible singers who air out their heavenly gift every Sunday, then go to work cleaning motel rooms on Monday. But stardom wasn’t in God’s plans for these wailing, growling, shrieking church ladies. Though generally acknowleged as 1945- 1960, the glory years of gospel can be traced as far back as the 1920’s, when a new crop of blues-based religious songs grew in popularity so quickly that the Baptist Church had to begrudgingly endorse them or lose parishioners to the more fervent Pentecostal services. Resistance to innovations in religious music goes back to the early 1700’s when a British pastor named Dr. Isaac Watts realized that the stodgy hymns of the day, taken straight from scripture and delivered at a plodding pace by a monotonous congregation, did not do justice to the Creator.

To Watts, religious songs were a personal offering of praise and therefore should feature a more glorious presentation and heartfelt sentiment. Almost three centuries later, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama followed that edict when they gave the old Dr. England’s John Newton, though it’s often credited to Dr. 1969 pop hit for the Edwin Hawkins Singers, make up much of the contemporary gospel songbook, but there’s no way to overstate the influence of African American compositions of the 1800s. African homeland to tales of Old Testament heroes. In the years directly following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, many newly free blacks discarded the spirituals as reminders of a time they wanted to forget.

But there was no getting over the songs, which resonated so deeply with listeners. But there’s also great release in the growling rhythms. Music is the language of the soul, that invisible entitity that preachers are always trying to save. Music expands the people who create it. Dorsey, who died in 1993 at age 93, was not the first songwriter to set religious themes to secular styles. Gershwins emerged during the nascent years to enlarge the canon of church music, creating a repertoire of songs that have each been recorded dozens of times.

He was also one of the first writers to meld the spiritual with the political and his songs were often sung at civil rights marches. Born in New York, he came to Chicago with his jazz band to play the 1931 World’s Fair, and never left. Before partnering with Morris, Martin, a marvelous bluesy singer with a head for business, teamed with Dorsey to establish the first publishing house for black gospel compositions in 1932. The same year, the pair helped organize the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses to help teach these new songs to music directors from all over the country. Dorsey hired an up-and-coming singer named Mahalia Jackson. He soon realized that request was as futile as asking the wind not to blow. Jackson couldn’t help herself when she was overcome by the spirit, a quality she had picked up as a girl in her native New Orleans, where the yelps and howls and fervent stomping of storefront Holiness churches were unavoidable.