PBS’ ‘Gospel’ Celebrates the Impact of Gospel Music

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PBS’ ‘Gospel’ Celebrates the Impact of Gospel Music

Mother Shirley Miller accompanied by the Edwin Hawkins Singers perform at City of Refuge UCC

For generations upon generations, Gospel music has been a cornerstone in the Black community. Getting us through slavery, segregation and the modern day trials and tribulations of being Black in America, Gospel has and continues to be the gift we didn’t know we needed to connect us as a community. PBS’ new series ‘Gospel’ takes a deep dive into the origin story of Black gospel music and preaching and the impact it still has today.

PBS’ ‘Gospel’ Celebrates the Impact of Gospel Music
Host, Henry Louis Gates Jr., poses for a photo with Dionne Warwick for GOSPEL

Throughout this series hosted by acclaimed scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr,. viewers are able to get a firsthand account of that impact and its many transformations throughout the years. Dating back to its blend of blues to its modern day interpretation, from Rev. Shirley Caesar to Kirk Franklin, artists have used Gospel music as a form of religious expression to heal, unify and uplift. 

This series serves as a tool to provide a greater understanding and appreciation for the Black Church and its unwavering role in society. 

We got a chance to connect with Tamish Bates-Cumberbatch, Worship and Digital Engagement Director of First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC) in Harlem and Los Angeles, where she shared a little about her own faith walk and why series like ‘Gospel’ are necessary for the culture. 

PBS’ ‘Gospel’ Celebrates the Impact of Gospel Music
Tamish Bates-Cumberbatch

1.) As a Worship Director and devoted Christian how did you feel watching ‘Gospel?’
Watching ‘Gospel’ made me extremely proud of the perseverance, creativity, passion, and overall rich history of our people. It gave me an even greater appreciation for our ancestors and the phenomenal, gospel greats who paved the way and truly encouraged me to continue to do the work that I am called to do in ministry.

The thorough research that went into this series shows, and not only did I learn a ton, I know it will be eye opening for many.

PBS’ ‘Gospel’ took me through a range of emotions, from immense joy and pride in the role that Gospel music and the Black Church has played in the Black and overall American experience, all the way to sadness in watching some of the struggles. All in all, Gospel music kept us encouraged and uplifted through it all. Gospel music is powerful and truly universal.  

I would absolutely encourage all of my fellow worship leaders, choir members, gospel songwriters, choir directors, worship team members, gospel artists and even preachers and pastors to check this series out. 

May it remind us all that the work that we do matters and has mattered for generations. 

Never take Gospel music and our gift of song lightly.  It is needed for such a time as this.

PBS’ ‘Gospel’ Celebrates the Impact of Gospel Music
Series Directors/Producers, Stacey Holman and Shayla Harris pose for a photo at the Double Love Experience Brooklyn Outdoor Service

2.) Gospel, sermon and song has brought us through generations as a people, how do you feel about the current state of it today?
As the series so beautifully showed, the Black church has always been a safe space for the Black community, especially post-slavery. It was and is an environment to commune with fellow believers, get encouragement through the word and song, share your gifts in ministry, develop a stronger relationship with God, and serve your community.

As much as Gospel music has evolved throughout the years, I’m grateful that it continues to be a powerful tool to share a message of encouragement with all who hear it, educate some and remind others about who God is, and exalt and praise our God via song.  Regardless of a person’s language or even religion, you can FEEL what is being sung due to the lyrics, musical and vocal arrangement, but also the conviction that it is ministered with.  

I see this weekly at FCBC as we often have tourists who attend our services, as well as when I toured in Europe. The countless number of people who come to speak with us after a service, that may not speak the same language as us, but have tears in their eyes or simply touch their heart to express how the service moved them, is beyond words.

I’m grateful to be used by God to minister to God’s people. It’s bigger than us.

PBS’ ‘Gospel’ Celebrates the Impact of Gospel Music
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. sits down with Rev. Shirley Caesar for GOSPEL.

3.) How do you feel about the future of Gospel music?
I’m a 80’s baby/90’s kid, so I’ve had a chance to watch Gospel evolve throughout a few decades. While choir music was huge in the 80’s and 90’s, you started to hear a bit of a Hip-hop (and R&B) infusion in the 90’s with Kirk Franklin and even Fred Hammond. During the 2010’s, Gospel music began shifting to more of a praise and worship sound and is now fully there in the 2020’s. There’s still a sprinkle of previous sounds, which I love, so there is something for everyone.

I think Gospel music will continue to evolve generation to generation, but I pray that it never loses its core and its power. No matter what genres we may infuse with it, as long as each generation keeps God and God’s message at the forefront, it will continue to impact, uplift, and minister to the masses, and draw them closer to God.

4.) Given the history, how do you feel Gospel music has impacted other genres of music?
Most of the biggest stars in music come from the church, so Gospel music and the Black church has always had an impact on the sound of Blues, Jazz, Doo wop, Motown, Soul, Disco, R&B, Funk, Country, Rock’n’roll, Pop and even some Hip-hop music until this very day. These genres have also been infused in Gospel music. It’s a cyclical relationship that per the series and my personal experience hasn’t always been welcomed with open arms in the church. While my current church, FCBC, is definitely more open to infusing all genres within a worship experience, I have attended and served in many spaces where my progressive mindset wasn’t celebrated by all, similar to what Thomas A. Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson and many others experienced. Many times a new expression of Gospel can be demonized and said that it is “not of God”. While sometimes that can be the case (there’s definitely a fine line), many times it isn’t. It isn’t demonic. It’s just different and definitely “of God”.

And on the ‘secular side’, the feel, heart, soul, conviction and ‘performance style’ of Gospel music is so powerful and distinct, that you can literally feel when a “secular” artist has what we call “the oil” lol. You can tell when a song is a little more than just singing words or playing a melody, and actually hits your soul when an artist is performing. Undoubtedly, when you do your research, you will see that the person, band, or producer has come from the church and has a background in Gospel music. You can feel it. It can’t be faked. The music and gift from God literally have a sound or frequency that you can tell is not of this world.

The 4 hour series ‘Gospel’ is available to watch across the PBS app, PBS.org and your local PBS station.

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