The second episode in the six-part docuseries Rivers of Rhythm, presented by American Songwriter and Renasant Bank, is now available to view. It addresses the tradition of spirituality and gospel at the core of African American music. The series celebrates Black History Month and spotlights the work of the National Museum of African American Music.
Artist & producer Otto Gross says in the second program: “Spirituality has always been a huge part of the African American community and it has always been the beginning of music.”
Adds Steven Lewis of the National Museum of African American Music: “Because of the central importance that music played in African cultures and then continue to play in African American cultures, religious music was a crucial part of that religious experiences.”
Continues Lewis: “Now, gospel music, which is often kind of conflated with the spirituals, is actually something that emerges in the 1920s and 30s as a result of the combination of that older spiritual tradition with newer developments and popular music coming out of the blues and jazz.”
Adds Gross: “Gospel music absolutely started in the church, but it goes way beyond that. You see it in popular music. All sorts of genres – country, pop, R&B – all of them. You think of people like Beyoncé or Jamie Foxx, John Legend – he started in the church. All of them got their start in the church and because of that, that absolutely influences some of the biggest hits that we see now in other genres.”
The narrator concludes: “Spirituals and gospel music serve as a soundtrack to the faith and perseverance of African American people, guiding us through slavery, the civil rights movement, and other pivotal moments in history, shepherding us to the promised land.”
The Rivers of Rhythm series celebrates the genres and styles that have been created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans. It features interviews with current artists, along with perspectives from leading historians and curators. Each episode focuses on a particular musical style; the first, The Music Of Africa, is available here, with blues, jazz, R&B, and hip-hop to be featured in the coming weeks.