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GOSPEL, the latest history series from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., digs deep into the origin story of Black spirituality through sermon and song. GOSPEL is a companion program to the live celebration with Erica Campbell, John Legend and more! Watch GOSPEL LIVE! now.
GOSPEL’s hour 1 takes the gospel train north to Chicago, where southern migrants Thomas A. Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe blended the melodic sounds and instrumentation of blues and jazz with lyrics about God’s goodness. Like the blues, gospel would become a commodity, but one built by Black-owned publishing companies like Martin and Morris and sustained by Black audiences.
Starting in the 1940s, GOSPEL’s hour 2 explores the Golden Age of Gospel — the dramatic explosion of Black sacred music and the segregated highways of the American South — through the successful careers of Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin. As the lines between the sacred and secular blur, gospel music becomes the powerful soundtrack of the freedom struggle.
In GOSPEL’s hour 3, gospel family dynasties dominate the charts while other children of the church use their musical prowess to influence soul music. Black pastors also distinguish their sound with prophetic voices and sermonettes.
Gospel’s Platinum Age reflected a new generation embracing secular rhythms to modernize the gospel sound. GOSPEL’s hour 4 explores the movement that brought songs about faith to millions at clubs, on cable TV and on urban radio.