With the recent revelation that the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards are moving to Atlanta, GA for reasons including “a way to better embrace the Black gospel community” — it is important to recognize that Gospel music as a whole has played a major role in Nashville for centuries.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers’ enthrall-ing performances in Europe were the genesis to Nashville’s “Music City” moniker in the 1800s and is just part of Nashville’s beautiful black gospel treasures
Enslaved Africans in the fields of the Belle Meade Plantation (home of Nashville’s largest slave-holding family), the Hadley Plantation (present-day Tennessee State University) and even the historic Hermitage sang many of the spiritual greats we sing today. Songs like “This Little Light of Mine,” “Wade in the Water” and “Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot” were the maps that led to freedom.
Thankfully, Nashville’s rich and storied connection to black gospel did not end with the Civil War. The 20th century brought many uniquely Nashville experiences to black gospel in the form of broadcasting, printing and publishing. These are just a few:
• 1921: Acclaimed a cappella gospel group the Fairfield Four is formed at Nashville’s Fairfield Baptist Church, making their first radio broadcast on WSIX in the 1930s.
• 1934: The National Baptist Publishing Board, founded in 1897 by freed slave R. H. Boyd, became America’s largest black publishing company. By 1934, the company was servicing 20,000 Sunday schools and 8,000 churches, publishing more than 20 different hymnals and music books, in addition to a broad variety of Christian education materials and church supplies.
• 1951: Cal Young, Nashville radio entrepreneur, launched WSOK, the first radio station in Nashville to cater to an African-American audience with an all-black air staff playing rhythm-and-blues and gospel music.
Ernie Young, founder of Excello Records, launched the black gospel label Nashboro, recording and releasing hundreds of 45s between 1960 and 1984.
• 1976: Bobby Jones, influential gospel music artist and TV producer, begins filming the Nashville Gospel Show, airing on WSMV. The show would later move to BET spanning 30 years
• 1983: Radio Station WMBD 880AM (formerly WKDA) is purchased by the Rev. Morgan Babbs, introducing a gospel format.
With the turn of the 21st century, Nashville has continued to play a major role in black gospel. The Stellar Awards, which recognize and honor African-American gospel artists and many television and film stars, recently celebrated their 25th anniversary and for the fifth consecutive year taped at the Grand Ole Opry House. Additionally, award-winning black gospel artists continue to record and perform in Music City with many contemporary gospel artists calling Nashville home. Our city has continuously influenced countless genres, propelling the careers of many great performers who for centuries have allowed us to tap our toes, clap our hands and connect us with a spirit of music that warms the soul
Gospel music is not only important to the fabric of the music industry, but to the Nashville community, with many impactful stories. While we are saddened to see the Dove Awards relocate and hope they will return to Nashville, the gospel genre will forever stand as a historic and riveting slice of Nashville’s music compass and will continue, in many facets, to call our great city home.
article courtesy of TheBelleReport
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