Black gospel music originated during the period of slavery. It was the faith of black men and women that carried them through times of great turmoil during their captivity and forced labor. Singing was a way to lift the spirits and to maintain hope among the people. Many of the songs sang back then are still celebrated with great enthusiasm today.
- "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was written by Wallace Willis as he pondered his existence in the midst of slavehood. To people who knew him, he was known as Uncle Wallace. He was a slave to an Indian from the Choctaw tribe in a small town in Choctaw County Oklahoma. This famous hymn quickly made its way across the country as university choirs from state to state began performing this beautiful, old song.
- "Precious Lord Take My Hand" was written by the great Thomas Dorsey. Dorsey, who was called "the father of gospel music" wrote the song a week after his wife died in childbirth and then shortly thereafter his baby died as well. In his grief, he sat down at the piano and the words seemed to flow from his voice and the melody from his keyboard. And thus this classic hymn was born.
- "There Will Be Peace In The Valley" was also written by Thomas Dorsey. This old favorite was written in 1937 for none other than Mahalia Jackson. The theme of the hymn was based upon the scriptures from Isaiah 11, where it is said the lion will lay down with the lamb and sadness shall be no more. While this song has been recorded by many others, Mahalia Jackson's recording sold over a million hits.
- "Go Tell It On The Mountain" was written in the year 1865 by James Wesley Work, Jr. It is actually a Christmas hymn that celebrates the birth of Christ and has been performed by many artists the world over and is a favorite for Christmas pagents everywhere.
- The words of "Stand By Me" is a prayer in song. Charles Albert Tindley wrote this hymn in 1905. He was also Dorsey's contender for the title of "father of gospel music." Born in 1851 he was the son of slaves and at 17 years of age taught himself to read and right. He became a pastor of a Methodist church in 1902 and his son "I Shall Overcome Someday" was the catalyst for the song "We Shall Overcome" made popular by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
While songs like these are still well known today, others have slipped through the cracks of time. But many organizations are working to save them from being forgotten altogether so that generations to come may learn these songs and they history behind them.
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