Inside the Music | The Gospel Influence | Mainstream Country

Country music and gospel have always been close partners, since many gospel acts come from the American South, and Nashville, the home of country music, lies in the heart of the Bible Belt. Numerous influences abound within the Church, stretching from traditional shape-note singing that goes back several hundred years, to today’s contemporary and Christian music.

Primitive and Southern Baptists, and Evangelical Methodists all have a long and fine heritage when it comes to singing, alongside other branches of Christian groups that grew out of the South – all provided an excellent grounding for future country and bluegrass performers.

Country-Gospel In The Charts

Modern America’s ever-growing and changing ways took longer to reach the rural South, and because of this, the area has retained many traditional vocal styles. Country music has been a major beneficiary over the years, with gospel music playing a significant part in the lives of country artists. Even the biggest stars over the years have recorded gospel music – and several still do, if not to the same degree as in the past. At one time it was expected that even the biggest stars would record at least one gospel album and the posthumously released My Mother’s Hymn Book was just one of several in the substantial Johnny Cash catalogue. His 1968 chart-topping single, ‘Daddy Sang Bass’, featuring The Statler Brothers and The Carter Family, was country gospel, and Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith, Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Jeannie C. Riley, George Hamilton IV, Vern Gosdin and George Jones head a long list of those who recorded gospel material.

Several veteran acts devoted the latter years of their lives to recording gospel music, among them ’Tennessee’ Ernie Ford, whose early collection Hymns was, at one time, the biggest seller in the Capitol Records catalogue; western movie favourites Roy Rogers sand Dale Evans; and Jimmie Davis, whose amazing career included being twice elected Governor of Louisiana.

Gospel music was most prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s, prior to which it had been the staple diet of such pioneering country music families as the Carters and Stonemans; The Monroe Brothers (Charlie and Bill) and Bailes Brothers; and several groups that included the Brown’s Ferry Four.

Old And New Favourites

Roy Acuff, together with his Smoky Mountain Boys, was the biggest name on the Grand Ole Opry and heard regularly throughout the nation thanks to WSM’s powerful 5,000-watt transmitter, would perform such stirring gospel favourites as ‘Great Speckled Bird’ and ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord’. Hank Williams, whose shortlived association with the Opry was part of an equally short and tragic life, wrote several enduring gospel songs, with his ‘I Saw The Light’ standing well alongside such Albert E. Brumley (1905–77) favourites as ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and ‘Turn Your Radio On’. Other songs like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’ remain among the most performed and recorded items in gospel...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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