Is There a Gospel Music Identity Crisis In Black America?

I recently read a very powerful, and well thought out and well argued four part article written by Jelani Greenige,  who writes at  in addition he is an award-winning speaker, emcee, musician, who also is a part of the hip-hop duo The Iccsters.  He is the director of worship at Portland’s Irvington Covenant Church.
In the article, Jelani examines popular ex-gospel artist formerly known as Tonex and how he fits into this musical genre that we call Contemporary Black Gospel Music.  The author thoughtfully, and without negative judgement, looks at the identity of gospel music-what it was and what it now is and how it has reached its new place.  With his christian worldview in place, Jelani analyzes what it all means and how we as Christians might view the culture and politics of this now popular music, along with the artists who sing and play it, and what it all should mean to those of us who profess Christ.

Gospel artists Tonex and Fred Hammond
Personally, I am not too well aware of all the ins and outs of contemporary gospel music.  I do listen to Donnie McClurkin’s radio program that comes on early Sunday morning when I’m on the way to church.  I also listen to Bobby Jones’ show that comes on right afterwards.  I usually catch the last 10 minutes of Donny’s and the first 10 minutes of Bobby’s.  I must admit and be real–the best thing about those two shows for me are their funky jingles!!!   On hit big time, especially Bobby’s!
 ….Bobby Jones is…on the rad-i-oooooo he’s… just what I want….he’s got the music flooooo-win….AND THAT’S ALRIGHT WITH ME!!!  The Bobby Jones Gospel Count–Down Show!!

That’s pretty hot!!!  Which might be the problem with contemporary gospel music right there.  The music is too hot.  It feels like I could party like it’s 1999, old school style up in here!  Or even new school, because one day I as I was listening I heard Dorinda Clark’s voice in autotunes!  That was kinda weird, because she has the most unique voice, that’s suited to gospel, and she so does NOT need autotunes!   (What is it with autotunes anyway, why must everyone be forced through the autotunes sieve?)  For me, Roger broke the mold with that whole autotunes thing.  Let everybody else just stop.

Anyway, contemporary black gospel falls through the cracks for me musically, and spiritually.  They say when you try to cover everything, you end up doing a poor job at all of it.  A jack of all trades and a master of none is my description for most of what is presented for this music.  If I was a club hopper, I wouldn’t want the music because of the generous sprinkling of the name of Jesus here and there in it.  I don’t think I could do my hottest tootsie roll, cabbage patch and running man to the name of Jesus.  As for the Holy Spirit moving, I think that the heavy basslines, thumping guitar licks, and vocal acrobatics of some of these singers like Tonex and Deitrick would definitely distract me from the move of God through the music.  Both boys can SANG, but you know they put it on real thick.

When I read many of the bios of these artists, they invariably bring up that it’s “time to move to a new place in black gospel music, those old hymns don’t speak to the youth today”.  They are forever saying that, and it’s a weak excuse and cop out that sounds good to young people.   In my opinion it’s just another way to steal black youth’s heritage from them.  They are tricked into believing that anything old is worthless, and they throw away their powerful foundations of strength.  When hard times come, they are easily crushed because they have thrown out their foundation and birthright.  It’s not that the old hymns do not speak to the youth: it’s that the youth have been made deaf and blind to their own heritage.

Of course, I am not talking about ALL Contemporary black gospel music, because there is still plenty that truly speaks to the heart of God.  There is still much that is true worship music, and it’s not hard to differentiate it from the fake stuff, if the listener truly knows God.  I think a person needs to have a true relationship with God to be able to discern the difference.  Because it’s easy to confuse emotionalism with the move of the Holy Spirit.   I once read someone put it this way:  is it the move of God, or is that E flat major key being played that’s getting to your emotions?

That’s why I appreciated the article by Jelani.  He tackled this important issue with the clarity of a sage.  The article is long, but it’s worth reading every word.  I think it is important for us to be able to go beyond criticisms of those things that we see happening within our culture that we feel are detrimental to us.  We need to analyze and make decisions so that we can respond correctly.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. lin says:

    Wow! I didn’t realize he’s changed his look so drastically. Well, you know what? I’ll bet he’s happier to finally let his freak flag fly (still in the name of Jesus) & be who he’s felt like inside.

    There should be no one way to express one’s self as a man, one’s belief system as a Christian or in any other religion. Maybe when more people remove those blinders that limit them from embracing the world and its people they deem as different and stop placing judgment upon them, we’ll all become more Christ-like in our own existences.

    That’s something to ponder, isn’t it?



    1. Anna Renee says:

      Hey Brova!
      I think that Tonex is being himself, a person who pushes boundaries. Even within the realm of the homosexual community, he’s not one for being restricted. I watched one video interview with him and a guy representing a gay political viewpoint.

      This guy tried to get Tonex to acknowledge this political viewpoint and tried to make Tonex conform to it, but Tonex told him this: (paraphrase)
      I wont say that I would never again be with a woman, because I love the spirit of a woman, that’s attractive to me, and so I can’t commit to saying that I would never again be attracted to a woman.

      I’ve not been able to find that interview again on Youtube yet. I think it spoke to the fact that people will try to contrict others; straight people and gay people will try to make others conform. Because PEOPLE are just people and we all are selfish to a certain extent.

      Anyway, boo, how you doing? How are you feeling these days?

  2. lin says:

    Very familiar w/ that rebellious gene in gay black folks, although it’s kinda rare even now. I can recall a time when I ran into an old homegirl who was by then an out & strident lesbian (yanno: dressed uber-masculine, head shaved, the whole butch nine), and we were talking about the good ole days before she came out, & then afterward… she finally revealed the reason for her appearance. In effect she said ‘I let people KNOW who I am, & what I’m about, right away, and that way folk swon’t come around me unless they down or can accept me as I am.’ In other words, no secrets, no… I didn’t know you were like THAT! No crushing heartbreak or rejection. Why? Because it was all in your face… & f— you if you couldn’t deal with it.

    I never forgot that, & how it seemed so damned radical that I could only respect her for taking such a bold-ass stance… & this was back in the early 80s!

    N-T-way… I’m doin aiight today. Thanks for asking. Feelin a little stronger so that’s why I paid you a visit on this warm summer Sunday in NY. Hope all is well & Blessed in Anna Renee-ville.

    Snatch JOY, my Sista!


    1. Anna Renee says:

      This attitude reminds me of a sister who was a girl-friend of another woman I knew, who happened to be a white sister girl. This sister was lesbian and somewhat “butch” but was just herself with it. She didn’t put on airs or force it and I respected her for that.

      That girl was my number one Polo Sports for men oil buyer back in my oil selling, incense selling days!!!! She sure could wear her some Polo Sports for men! Ha! She was really real, tho!

      Glad you doing better and you better snatch YOU some JOY too, Boy! 🙂

  3. Ann Brock says:

    Anna thanks for the article. I’ve check the links to the article you have posted and it is a good read. I remember reading a post written by Terrance at BET about the Dove music award show and how the black gospel singers were treated unfairly. In the post he made a comment that hit me like a ton of bricks (I’m paraphrasing) the black gospel music community today is a genre and cultural style of music…that is known only as gospel but not the real gospel which is the message of the gospel of Christ…… there is a difference.
    When it comes to today’s gospel music I can’t get with it nor can I embrace it. When gospel music can no longer be sang in church on Sunday morning you no it’s useless.

    1. Anna Renee says:

      Yes, it is useless if it doesn’t edify. I think as it became more competitive with popular music, and now is almost on the same level in terms of sales, it on the opposite side, went down in terms of power.

      The balance — either worldly popularity or holy ghost power. The choice is there to be made.

  4. rosewater says:

    I see gay christian movement watch on your blog roll. I was actually about to recommend it. It truly opened my eyes…

    I knew Gospel had fallen way off for all to see when I saw a looong gossip thread about gospel singers on a non christian message board. It was filled with stories of infidelity, sexual exploits, drugs, down low (or not) activity…just a mess…

    1. Anna Renee says:

      I have him blogrolled because I’m watching him as he watches others.

      I find that folks tend to look at homosexual promiscuity and blame all gays, but when they look at heterosexual promiscuity, they blame the promiscuous one only.

      We humans are very skilled at pointing fingers at each other.

      1. S.Ray says:

        No, not at all. Sadly, Black America’s Identity Crisis doesn’t begin with Gospel Music; it begins with being called black.(The color, black, is not a place of orgin. Even the color white is a thing – proving there are no Black or White places of origin found noplace on earth). No, there is not an identity crisis in Gospel Music. Black America simply appreciates, rather, the opportunity of hearing really good, and varied Gospel music. Nobody should judge nobody.

  5. rosewater says:

    I remember reading earlier this year about 2 contemporary christian singers that came out…one was a woman whose name I don’t remember and the other was Ray Boltz.

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