Title: Make A Joyful Noise: A Brief History of Gospel Music Ministry in America
Author: Kathryn Kemp
Publisher: Joyful Noise Press
While most of the books I review are provided free through various book-blogger programs, I came across my latest read through more creative means. I am a member of The National Association of Professional Women Chicago Chapter. While perusing the Chicago Chapter members, I came across Kathryn Kemp, minister and author of Make a Joyful Noise! A Brief History of Gospel Music Ministry in America. (Ms. Kemp’s book was first released in July of 2011 and has been expanded to E-book formats in February of this year.) Not one to pass up a good read, I immediately messaged Kathryn and asked if I could interview her.
I must admit, my exposure to Gospel music is very limited. The “Gospel section” of my CD collection includes: Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Fred Hammond, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, the Elvis Gospel Treasury, Aretha Franklin, and Ella Fitzgerald. That’s it. Prior to reading Ms. Kemp’s book, I had no knowledge of the gentlemen responsible for launching Gospel music into mainstream America: Thomas Dorsey and James Cleveland. To remedy this I went straight to the video library for every young adult, YouTube! (I have since created a channel dedicated to both gentlemen on my Pandora account.)
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Kemp, a few weeks ago. Within a few minutes of conversation, Ms. Kemp’s welcoming personality reveals she is a warm, kind and caring. Her love for God, faith and church also stand out as important pillars in her life. In 2002, Kathryn attended a convention of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. The powerful and meaningful experiences encountered during the week-long conference lead to the writing of her first book, Make A Joyful Noise.
In content, Make A Joyful Noise is divided into two sections. Section One provides an historical exploration of the roots of gospel music as well as an overview of the development of gospel music from African roots to contemporary American culture. Homage is paid to the forefathers of gospel music, Thomas Dorsey and James Cleveland, both of whom devoted their lives to delivering the Gospel in music form. Through passion, personal tragedy, commitment and calling, both Dorsey and Cleveland became key figures in expanding the influence of Gospel music ministry in the United States in the 20th Century.
Enjoy a peak at the talents of Dorsey and Cleveland:
Section Two chronicles the legacy of James Cleveland, the founder of the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA). With more than 20,000 members worldwide, the GMWA’s annual convention continues to be on the forefront of spreading gospel music worldwide. The cornerstone of the Gospel Music Workshop of America is the commitment to preparing those called to gospel music ministry in developing the art of expressing the Gospel in music form. Whether leading a choir or worship team in a congregation or forging a career in gospel music, GMWA offers curriculum to ensure an individual, choir or musical groups is equipped with the passion, knowledge and expertise to serve accordingly. Some of gospel music’s leading names have been discovered at a GMWA conference, through the exposure received in the convention’s competitions and talent nights. The GMWA has launched the careers of such gospel artists as: Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, and Donnie McClurkin.
Ms. Kemp is quick to distinguish, both in writing and word, the difference between Gospel Music Ministry and “Gospel music.” She offered the following view when asked to clarify the two:
“The heart of gospel music ministry is to relay the Good News of Jesus to the audience. You will know when you are in the presence of Gospel music ministry because the lyrics reflect the salvation of God. The Spirit has anointed the one singing, the one presenting the message of the Good News, and has prepared the heart of the audience to hear and respond to that precious invitation. Gospel music ministry allows the hearer, the participants, to transcend everyday life and enter into the presence of God. Without that anointing power of God, it’s just a concert; an opportunity for the performer to make money.”
As much as Ms. Kemp’s book offers a platform to celebrate the history, purpose and influence of Gospel Music Ministry, she also puts forth a challenge to the gospel industry. Slight criticisms are present regarding recent shifts in the gospel music industry. Her critiques are threefold: loss of evangelistic purpose in pursuit of profit, secular consumerism, and the loss of tradition and history.
According to Kemp, gospel music is a ministry not an industry. In essence, gospel music provides a means to share the story of God’s love and grace. As such it is evangelistic in nature. Any artist, record label or agency that treats gospel music as a business rather than an entrusted and sacred platform to express the Good News of God is missing the mark. The heart of gospel music is to share the love and hope found in Christ and the promises of a God who welcomes all to the family, through Jesus.
As gospel continues to expand into secular (non-church) mainstream avenues, many of which are not black owned or operated, tension exists over the loss of gospel’s history and traditions, creating a disconnect between the evolution of gospel and maintaining the historical integrity of gospel in its modern context. One of the consequences of this disconnect has been the marketing of gospel music in the secular arena. Removing gospel music from the church culture to the secular mainstream has created a sub-culture of consumer-minded gospel fans who may enjoy the rhythm and beat of the music but miss the importance of the lyrics. Meaning, the heart, message and integrity of gospel music becomes lost, tarnished, overshadowed by the product which is the artist themselves and all the merchandizing sold for branding.
Heavy admonition is directed toward those who enter the field of gospel music only to achieve personal fortune and fame. To do so diminishes the value of the Gospel message. Gospel music ministry exists to glorify God and promote the redemptive message of hope found in the Bible. Kemp reminds the reader of the responsibility placed on those who “answer the call” to gospel music ministry to represent themselves as a servant of God, an orator of the scripture and a promoter of the Good News.
What is clear from my interaction with Ms. Kemp is her desire to uplift the church and see the integrity and sacredness of gospel music retained. The mission of the Gospel Music Workshop of America is to train and mentor gospel artists and musicians. Overall, Make A Joyful Noise offers a brief history of the roots and growth of gospel music sparking enough interest in the topic to spur the reader to study on their own. If you have a general interest in the field of gospel, or want to know more about the achievements of Thomas Dorsey, who founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, or James Cleveland, founder of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, this read is for you!
** Author Giveaway **
Author Kathryn Kemp will provide one free copy of Make A Joyful Noise to a lucky reader. To enter the giveaway, simply comment on this post with the name of your favorite gospel artist or song. The winner will be notified on April 28.
Kathryn B. Kemp is a retired educator, administrator and music director. She resides in Chicago, IL where she attends Memorial Baptist Church. Kathryn is a licensed minister whose desire is to do the work that God has ordained for her life. You may view Kathryn’s profile by clicking here.
Check out Kathryn’s video promotion here:
Gospel Music, once restricted to black worship services, has come into its own as a genre that rivals contemporary secular music in its popularity. No longer viewed as a means to an end for R&B artists-in-training, it is now an end in itself, with many talented musicians seeking first the kingdom of gospel music ministry rather than the holy grail of popular music.
This book traces its origin from its Biblical roots to the “code songs” and spirituals that emerged during slavery. It assesses the impact on the genre of Thomas A. Dorsey, the “Father of Gospel Music,” and Rev. James Cleveland, “The (Crown Prince CHANGE TO KING) of Gospel Music” through the latter’s founding of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. A highlight of the book is the interviews with key figures in gospel music who have (STRIVEN) to preserve the heritage of this uniquely African-American art form. This book is a valuable contribution to the field for all devotees of this music.
To purchase a copy of this book, either in paperback or e-format on Amazon, click here.