Gospel music has been an important part of the spiritual life of the church since the late 1800s. It has its roots in both Negro spirituals and traditional church hymns that came over from Europe. Revivalists of the turn of the century employed gospel music to stir emotions and gain converts.
Gospel music lyrics are simple and clear to communicate the message of God's love and forgiveness expressed through the death of Christ on the cross. The message is expressed sometimes from an experiential "I" and "my" perspective and sometimes from a "we" and "thou" angle (community-oriented traditional hymns).
Some instruments commonly heard in Gospel music are the piano, organ, guitar, bass guitar, drums, tambourines, keyboard, violin, and brass horns. The instruments vary according to the sub-genre of gospel music being played. The banjo is found commonly in blue-grass country-style gospel. The guitar and drums are the main source of sound in gospel rock.
Black gospel music is very rhythmic and involves frequent clapping to the beat of the song. Repetitious lyrics and rhythm patterns are often employed to make memorization of the lyrical content easier. One such song, says "Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King, Soon and very soon we are going to see the King" repeatedly and finishes with "Hallelujah, Hallelujah, we are going to see the King." This repetitious rhythm is both didactic and emotional.
Gospel music is presented by a variety of performers. The soloist is often employed to deliver a gospel song as an invitational tune at the end of a service. Duets are used on occasion to inspire the congregation with a heartfelt message. Gospel trios and quartets, such as the Gaither Trio and the Imperials, have produced many gospel classics. Choirs have also presented gospel tunes in churches and in concerts to inspire the faith of many.
Gospel music encompasses many sub-genres and styles. The traditional black gospel choir or soloist is definitely part of what gospel music is but not the whole picture. There are Country gospel singers whose inspirational tunes can be heard on country and Christian radio. Contemporary Christian music and Christian/gospel rock have brought the gospel message to mainstream audiences with singers like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Stephen Curtis Chapman, and Petra.