Rise of Gospel Blues

Rise of Gospel Blues : Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church

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Most observers believe that gospel music has been sung in African-American churches since their organization in the late 1800s. Nothing could be further from the truth as Michael Harris's history of gospel blues reveals. Tracing the rise of gospel blues as seen through the career of its founding figure, Thomas Andrew Dorsey, Harris not only tells the story of the most prominent person in the advent of gospel blues, but also contextualizes this powerful new musical form within African-American religious history and significant social developments. Thomas A. Dorsey, also known as "Georgia Tom, " had considerable success in the 1920s as a pianist, composer, and arranger for prominent blues singers including Ma Rainey. In the 1930s, Dorsey became involved in Chicago's African-American, old-line Protestant churches, where his background in the blues greatly influenced his composing and singing. At first these "respectable" Chicago churches rejected this new form, partially because of the unseemly reputation blues performance had, but more because of the excitement that gospel blues produced in the church congregation. A controversy developed between two conflicting visions of the role of the church in African-American society. One segment envisioned an institution that nurtured a distinct African-American religion and culture; the other saw the church as a means by which African Americans would assimilate first into mainline American Christianity with its sharply contrasting worship demeanor and second into the dominant Anglo-American culture. However, by the end of the 1930s, the former group had prevailed, because of the overwhelming response of the congregation to gospel blues. From thattime on, it became a major force in African-American churches and religion. The Rise of Gospel Blues expresses the broader cultural and religious histories of the African-American experience between the late 1890s and the late 1930s. Thus, it discusses the blues of the 1920s withshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 324 pages
  • 157.48 x 236.22 x 25.4mm | 748.42g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 31 line drawings
  • 0195063767
  • 9780195063769

Review quote

"Harris...skillfully demonstrates the ways that music can serve ideology, whether as "survival texts" or as an emblem of class warfare. He also captures the union of piety and commerce inherent in American fundamentalism."--New York Times Book Review"Harris cleverly weaves together his biographical and cultural analysis....He has written a fine book from which historians, even the tone deaf among them, will profit."--American Historical Review"Harris carefully portrays Dorsey as the personification of the tension between the assimilationist and indigenous African-American traditions....This is no mere academic anatomizing imposed on a music of folkish popular culture....The fact that Harris transgresses the repressive orthodoxy of the church and reveals the human contribution to gospel music to be "the blues" makes his book one of the few nonfictional pieces placeable in Ralph Ellison's "blues school of literature."--Georgia Historical Quarterly"The Rise of Gospel Blues fills a critical void.... More than a biography of an important composer, Harris frames Dorsey's life and music against the backdrop of early twentieth-century African-American social and intellectual history....A complex and provocative work, providing a solid foundation for exploring the role of gospel music in the twentieth-century African-American church."--Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter "A most welcome book whose subjects are dramatically underrepresented in the literature and whose specific subject has been preserved too long only in the memories of the oral tradition."--Choiceshow more

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7 ratings
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4 43% (3)
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