Have You Heard: Gospel Music

Faculty member Jonathan Singleton, who runs the summer Gospel Performance Program, curates this playlist as a gospel music primer.

In its origins, gospel music derived from the frequent use of call-and-response singing, particularly within a Black oral tradition in the American South. While the genre was bred in religious and ceremonial settings, that call has received responses from many other contexts, from bluegrass to contemporary, nonreligious forms. The style and its cultural impact is the focus of the summer program at Berklee titled the Gospel Performance Program. In this playlist, the program's director Jonathan Singleton, who is also an assistant professor in the Ensemble Department, handpicks a variety of gospel classics and innovators. As Singleton notes, "This playlist is by no means an exhaustive survey of gospel music. A playlist containing 100 tracks would still be an abridged view of all of gospel. These are just a few examples of gospel music that inspires me."

Track List and Notes

The following track-by-track commentary was contributed by Jonathan Singleton.

1. "Deliver Me (This Is My Exodus)," Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers featuring Le'Andria Johnson

"This track for me embodies all the best of traditional and contemporary gospel music while conveying a deeply meaningful message. I had the chance to accompany Le’Andria Johnson once when she was in Boston, and I witnessed firsthand the power of her awesome voice to change an audience from listeners into worshipers!"

2. "Bless Me (The Prayer of Jabez)," Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers

"I wanted to include a classic Donald Lawrence song on this playlist, and of course this classic came to mind—a powerful scriptural message set to beautiful music. Sharla Byrd's powerful vocals, aided by the Tri-City Singers and Donald Lawrence’s strong exhortations always inspires."

3. "Amazing Grace," Aretha Franklin

"If I had to pick one desert-island gospel album, Aretha’s Franklin’s Amazing Grace would certainly be it. This Grammy-winning recording captures Aretha and gospel icon James Cleveland at such a high point. Of course I ran to the theater to see the recently released film documenting the recording of this great album. What a treat to see a young Aretha deliver the gospel truth as only she can!"

4. "Best Friend," The Hamiltones

"I love the ways gospel music spreads its influence throughout the wider music world. This is a beautiful love song, but sung with that traditional gospel 'quartet' sound that just always makes you want to move with its infectious rhythms and harmonies."

5. "How Deep Is Your Love," PJ Morton

"Another example of a classic pop/R&B song delivered with all the passion and energy (and cool reharms!) of a great gospel song."

6. "What Is This?," Walter Hawkins 

"[This is] one of my favorite gospel songs by one of gospel's greatest composers, Walter Hawkins. The lyircs provide a great introduction to the power of spirit to move you even when you’re not sure what’s happening! The musical accompaniment steps away from more traditional gospel cadences and provides a groove-oriented underpinning for a great sound that’s uplifting and also fun!"

7. "Your Great Name," Todd Dulaney

"This is a powerful worship song by Todd Dulaney that always gets the congregation on their feet during the praise service. A powerful message that marries the traditional call-and-response style of gospel with contemporary rhythms and harmonies."

8. "Better Days," Le’Andria Johnson

"A meaningful message of hope and comfort delivered in Le’Andria’s unique style, [this song] mixes traditional gospel with elements of blues and R&B. Her soaring voice brings to life the Mahalia Jackson quote, 'When you hear gospel music, you feel there is a cure for what’s wrong.'"

9. "Worth," Anthony Brown

"It was the inspiring message that God thought I was worth of saving that originally connected me to this great song, and now it's one we sing regularly at my church’s praise and worship services."

10. "Daric’s Jam (Live)," Gospelchops

"I love it when the rhythm section gets to let loose! Bassists Daric Bennett, Kenneth Diggs, Alan Evans, and the great Justin Raines created an awesome project with [the] Bass Sessionz [album]. Whether you are a bassist or not, you can’t help but enjoy the inspired playing."

11. "Sundays," Andrew Gouche

"A great track from one of gospel’s greatest bassists, Andrew Gouche. After hearing him accompany so many great gospel, pop, and R&B artists, it’s great to hear him leading his own project."

12. "Falling in Love with You," Kim Burrell

"Kim Burrell is one of gospel’s greatest singers. In this song, she weaves together jazz-inspired scat singing, cool gospel reharmonizations, and a meaningful message of falling in love with God—all while giving us a grooving, danceable accompaniment."