Tag Archives: gospel

The Influence of Gospel

Gospel music has had a significant influence on the development of rock and roll music. The roots of gospel can be traced back to the late 19th century, when African American communities in the South were developing their own forms of religious music that reflected their experiences and traditions. Gospel music was characterized by its powerful vocals, soaring harmonies, and emotional intensity, and it quickly became a staple of African American churches throughout the South.

Gospel music encompasses a wide range of musical styles, so there isn’t a specific beat that characterizes all gospel music. However, many gospel songs are rooted in the rhythms and harmonies of traditional African-American music, particularly blues and spirituals. These songs often feature a steady, driving beat with a strong emphasis on the backbeat (the second and fourth beats of each measure), which creates a sense of momentum and energy.

As rock and roll emerged in the 1950s, many young musicians were looking for new and innovative ways to express themselves musically. They turned to gospel music for inspiration, incorporating elements of its sound and style into their own music. This fusion of gospel and rock and roll gave birth to a new genre that would come to define the era and become one of the most popular and influential forms of music in the world.

Famous Gospel Influencers

portrait of Sam CookeOne of the biggest influences of gospel on rock and roll was Sam Cooke, who was one of the first artists to successfully merge the two styles. Cooke was a gospel singer in his youth, and he brought his powerful voice and soulful delivery to the rock and roll stage, making a significant impact on the genre and paving the way for other artists to follow.

Another major influence was Ray Charles, who combined gospel, blues, and jazz to create a unique and powerful sound that became known as soul. Charles was a gospel singer before he became a rock and roll legend, and his music reflected his gospel roots, incorporating elements of gospel into his rock and roll recordings and performances.

The influence of gospel on rock and roll can also be seen in the work of Elvis Presley, who was known as the “King of Rock and Roll.” Presley was raised in the gospel tradition, and his music was heavily influenced by the gospel music he heard in his youth. His gospel recordings, including “How Great Thou Art,” remain some of his most popular and enduring works.

There is no doubt that gospel music has had a profound influence on the development of rock and roll music. From the powerful vocals and soaring harmonies of gospel, to the soulful delivery of artists like Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, gospel has played a crucial role in shaping the sound and style of rock and roll. The influence of gospel on rock and roll continues to be felt today, as new generations of musicians continue to be inspired by its powerful traditions and its timeless appeal.

Little Richard

Little Richard earned his spot here by being one of the pioneers or Rock and fathers of The Golden Age of Rock.  He was a first generation rocker.

Born in 1932, Little Richard was a teen when the boom time of music expansion hit the world.  With WWII and the great depression behind, the 50s were times of new technology, increased leisure time, and a growing economy.

Little Richard pictured on a 1957 Topps gum trading card.
Little Richard pictured on a 1957 Topps gum trading card.

Little Richard, birth name Richard Wayne Penniman grew up in Macon Georgia.  Like many Afro-Americans, his first music performance experiences were at church. When he was 14, Little Richard performed with Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  Tharpe was another of the early rockers.  She started in gospel and moved towards what was soon to be known as rock.  Along the way, she earned the titles of “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock and roll”.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe was also noted as an influence on Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash.


His family had strong rules prohibiting singing or listening to R&B (rhythm and blues) music; they called it “devil music.” It wasn’t until 1948 after his family kicked him out of the house that he performed his first R&B song. It wasn’t a happy time for Little Richard, but it was a great time for the music world.

Little-RichardHe worked his way through several bands, building his talents and skills along the way. As he gained musical experience, he learned how to read the audience and tailor his songs to their likes. This may have been what led him into morphing his musical style towards early rock. He’s quoted as saying “A lot of songs I sang to crowds first to watch their reaction. That’s how I knew they’d hit”.Du Noyer 2003, p. 14

By 1955, Little Richard had recorded a couple of demo records and had his first big hit with Tutti Frutti late in the year. It hit #2 on the Billboard R&B chart and surprisingly also crossed over to reach the top 20 on the pop chart. His next hit single “Long Tall Sally” reached the top ten on the pop chart. Both singles sold over a million copies.

45 rpm record Good Golly Miss Molly by Little Richard
1958 release “Good Golly, Miss Molly”, 45 rpm recording on Specialty Records Krächz

Launched to fame from his hit records, Little Richard went on tour with his trademark high energy stage performance. He’s known for running on and off the stage, pounding on the piano, shouting lyrics, and sexually suggestive lyrics.

He’s also known for having some of the earliest mixed-race audiences. During the 50s, and especially in the South, public places were divided into “white” and “colored” areas. Audiences were still split. Usually white’s on the lower level and blacks in the balcony, but it was a start. Little Richard was often booked as the last act of the show because, by the time he was through, people would be out of their seats with whites and blacks mixed on the floor dancing. And it was probably also because no other act could catch the audience’s attention after him.

Little Richard, Richard Wayne Penniman was one of the ten original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his recording of “Tutti Frutti” is in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, with the note “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music”.

Rock’s Influences

Rock family influences
Rock family influences

Chuck Berry, one of the founding fathers of Rock and Roll, had a great quote about Rock’s influences:
“The Blues had a baby.  They call it Rock and Roll”. Fats Domino said just about the same “”What they call Rock and Roll I’ve been playing in New Orleans for years.”

It’s clear that Rhythm and Blues is Rock’s closest relative, but as it grew, influences from many different genres found their way in.  Here’s a few of rock’s early influences:

Country Music

Some of Rock’s most influential ancestors fall in the space somewhere in between Country Music and Rhythm and Blues. Music historians list several sub-genre in here, including Western Swing, Hillbilly Blues, Honky Tonk, and Bluegrass.


Early in the history of Rock, the country / blues combination was combined with early Rock. The result was Rockabilly, and it brought the first major wave of popularity to the Rock craze. Elvis’ 1954 recording of “That’s Alright Mama” started it off, and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” spread Rock’s musical influence around the world.

Folk Music

Folk music had a significant influence on the development of rock and roll. Many early rock and roll musicians, such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, began their careers in the folk music scene of the 1950s and 60s. The protest songs and socially conscious lyrics of folk music inspired many rock and roll artists to tackle similar themes in their own work. Additionally, the acoustic guitar-based sound of folk music provided a template for early rock and roll musicians to build upon, influencing the sound and style of early rock and roll. Folk music also helped to bridge the gap between different musical genres, paving the way for the fusion of various styles that would eventually come to define rock and roll.


Over the years, Rock has borrowed heavily from Gospel, most notable in the harmonies. Many of the early stars credit their church and Gospel music for their musical training.

Teen Idols

“Sex sells” is the old advertising slogan and it proved itself in the early history of Rock. Elvis, of course, started it off with his “Elvis the Pelvis” stage appearance, but after Rock’s initial burst of popularity, the buzz faded. All of a sudden, there were no stars. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) were killed in a plane crash, Elvis was in the army, Chuck Berry was in jail, Jerry Lee Lewis had shocked even the liberal rockers by marrying his underaged cousin, and Alan Freed had been convicted in the Payola scandal.

When the Winter Dance Party Tour (Buddy Holly’s tour with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper) resumed, it included three clean cut, all american teenage heartthrobs. Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, and Robert Velline (Bobby Vee) sang soft rock love songs and rocketed to stardom. They were followed by Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton, and the California beach singers like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean.