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UU Service

Jon Sievert

By Paula Peace

Over the centuries, religious music has shaped and molded the customs and cultures in which it exists. At this week’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship service, musicologist Jon Sievert traces the history of Black gospel music and its key musicians—from its beginnings through its golden age in the mid-1950s—using recorded examples.

Grounded in the spirituals of enslaved African Americans, Black gospel music as we know it today developed in the early twentieth century. Its roots come from the blues and the more freewheeling churches that encouraged members to testify about their faith by singing, speaking, and dancing spontaneously. Some of the earliest recorded examples include musicians such as Arizona Dranes and Blind Willie Johnson, who melded traditional religious themes with blues and barrelhouse techniques to great effect.

The 1930s brought Thomas A Dorsey, the “father of gospel music” and a successful blues artist who turned his skills to writing upbeat, blues-influenced religious songs after he had a profound religious experience. He wrote more than 300 gospel songs, including “Peace in the Valley” and “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” and organized and introduced the widespread practice of gospel choirs. He also introduced a young contralto named Mahalia Jackson to the world. That decade also brought us Sister Rosetta Tharpe, gospel’s first superstar, a powerful singer and great guitar player who introduced gospel music to middle-class white audiences.

Postwar America saw the genre experience explosive growth and ushered in “the golden age of gospel.” Hundreds of great performers emerged in this era, including the Golden Gate Quartet, Clara Ward, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Swan Silvertones, the Staple Singers, Alberta Walker, and the Soul Stirrers (featuring a young Sam Cooke, who went on to a successful secular recording career). Their music left an enduring impact on the development of American music and culture as we know it today.

Jon Sievert, a full-time resident of San Miguel, was the staff photographer, writer, and editor for Guitar Player, Keyboard, and Frets Magazines for more than 20 years. He has photographed and interviewed some of the greatest musicians of our time in all musical idioms.

The UU Fellowship meets every Sunday at 10:30am at Posada de la Aldea, Ancha de San Antonio 15, and welcomes people of all ages, races, religions, sexual orientation, and gender identity. For information about our Children’s Sunday Program, contact us at The meeting room is wheelchair accessible. For more information, visit our website at


UU Service

“The Roots and Golden Age of Black Gospel Music”

By Jon Sievert

Sun, May 13, 10:30am

Posada de la Aldea, Ancha de San Antonio 15



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