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The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church [Paperback]

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Item Number 160310  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   352
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.52" Width: 5.5" Height: 0.91"
Weight:   0.98 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 23, 1994
Publisher   Oxford University Press
ISBN  0195090578  
EAN  9780195090574  

Availability  85 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 21, 2016 11:05.
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Item Description...
Most observers believe that gospel music has been sung in African American churches since their organization in the late 1800s. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, as Michael W. Harris's history reveals. Working through the blues and gospel movement. Harris reconstructs the rise of gospel blues within the context of early twentieth century African American cultural history.

After a nervous breakdown and a subsequent religious conversion in 1928. Dorsey began to write gospel songs with blues accompaniments. His introduction of these "goals" into Chicago's Afro-Baptist churches during the 1930s stirred clashes between recently arrived southern migrants who felt comforted by the new spirituals and old-line members who dismissed the songs as sacrilegious echoes of the slave past. After years of writing and publishing hudnreds of "songs with a message"-- such as "Take My Hand," "Precious Lord," and "There Will Be Peace in the Valley"-- and training gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson, Dorsey had earned the title of "father" of gospel blues by the early 1940s. Delving into the life of the most prominent person in the advent of the gospel song movement. Harris illuminates not only the evolution of this popular musical form, but also the thought and social forces that forged the culture in which this music was shaped.

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More About Michael W. Harris

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Michael W. Harris is Associate Professor of History and African-American World Studies at the University of Iowa.

Michael W. Harris currently resides in the state of Iowa. Michael W. Harris has an academic affiliation as follows - Wesleyan University.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Important beyond Dorsey and Gospel  Dec 12, 2007
This book belongs on every bookshelf of anyone who is seriously concerned with African American folk and popular music, secular and religious. Harris does a good job describing not only the details of Dorsey's life, but setting him in the musical worlds he inhabited in the early 20th Century. My current research work does not include religious music, and I have been doing a lot of work on ragtime and the origins of the Blues as they related to the five string banjo. This book provided new insights on the nature of the Blues, on the relationship between the vaudveille Blues, Downhome Blues, and jazz in the 1920s that recent reading on Jelly Roll Morton, and the origins of Jazz and the Blues did not. At the same time, the book provides broad and ojective coverage of major trends in the Black church especially the National Baptist Convention in the first thirty years of the 20th Century.

Besides that he speaks of Dorsey and the origin of Blues Gospel. Put shortly, Black religious music in the early 20th century was dominated by forces who wanted to squelch African originated forms of religion and worship and impose European and European American models for services and music. In the Chicago of the 1920s, the major churches were dominated by music and choir directors who had been trained in Europe to produce superb classical religious music and any kind of African American singing and praise and testifying was often banned from the church as a whole or from the Sunday service.

The pressure of Black migration from the South placed a demand on conservative churches to hold onto their congregations. After a career as a mediocre Blues pianist, more successful arranger and band leader for Ma Rainey, while enjoying success in the Blues as George Tom, well known for his dirty songs, Dorsey crafted gospel songs and more importantly gospel performance patterns modeled after the music and the acts put on by successful Blues singers. He first worked with a former preacher singing his songs and walking in rhythm around churches. When they were first able to perform this way, Dorsey--always the accompaniest--would stand up at the piano, while this preacher danced and strutted as he sang his song. The congregation got wild.

Dorsey's goal seemed to be advancing his music publishing business by popularizing his songs with soloists. It was almost an after thought that in accepting a lucrative position as music director at a major Chicago Baptist church that he set up a gospel chorus, a move that was copied and duplicated as the blues-gospel movement swept the country.

The blues gospel approach provided a compromise. The old line preachers were fundamentally against African forms of congregational worship, singing by the whole church, the old church rock songs, testifying and other African aspects of religion. Gospel offered the music in a contained form, not done by the whole congregation, but performed by a contained gospel solist or gospel choir, and presenting a limited period in which shouting, testifying, and praising in the old way was possible without transforming the service.

Throughout, Dorsey was not shy in judging his success as a commerical venture. He speaks about success in the number of employees and the amount of space he had shipping out sheet music. Since his aims were to give religious music the music feel and performance style of blues entertainment, it is hardly surprising that Blues Gospel especially in the person of Dorsey's great protege Mahalia Jackson became first an informal form of entertainment within the Black church world, and then a
form that could be found in night clubs, variety shows, and jazz concert.

A lot of thought should be given to the importance of the gospel blues. Post WWII Black popular music began with waning swing singers and older Blues singers leading off R & B. However, the generations of Black R & B singers since the late 1940s have almost exclusively come out of the gospel music industry on the top or the bottom. Soul music beginning with Ray Charles' break into his own voice in the 1950s is not much more than adding the techniques and approaches of the gospel of the 1950s and 1960s to secular music. In this sense it returns to secular music what the religious music had received from Dorsey's Blues.

However, if Dorsey had not figured out how to legitimate Blues music style with the establish Black church, the openning to perform this kind of Black music by the religious authorities was important to keeping the music going. One should remember the degree to which Black churches outside the holiness churches, particularly in the South, forbade or condemned secular music and Blues. Now, I believe whether Dorsey or some other individual had done it, African religious and music traditions would have fought their way back into Black churches. Yet, if there hadn't been a Thomas Dorsey, it might have been harder, and more distance might have been made between Black religious and secular music.

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