Mapping Black Gospel Music

Gospel is a musical culture that was born centuries ago.

In the 16th century, when the slave trade began in North America, gospel music found its source.

African men and women, who sang in different Homelands in Africa, now would sing together in America.

From morning till night, they worked in cotton fields and decided to create new songs that could help them communicate with each other and to give coded


As time passed, and without forgetting their culture, they discovered and became passionate about the Christian religion. In the twentieth century, pastors began using this music for their preaching and evangelization. The negro-spiritual then became modernized.

This is when “Gospel” as a genre was born.

Very quickly, it began to be sung in concerts and gospel became commercial, with a constantly growing audience.

From slave spirituals songs to freedom songs, African worship and now contemporary gospel, the history of gospel music is one that deserves to be analyzed chronologically and spatially, in order to understand how changes within the black culture have led to new forms of gospel.

Section One: Why Mapping Gospel Music ?

When thinking of Gospel Music, we often times tend to think of it as a Christian genre, used in Churches to inspire and deliver the word of God.

However, this project intends to demonstrate that Gospel Music is so much more than just “Good News” or a Christian song. Rather, it is a genre that is deeply rooted in the African culture and reflects changes that have occurred since the movement of slaves to America as well as the social conditions that have altered the lives of African American Gospel musicians.

Consequently, mapping Gospel Music is one way to visualize how the movement of slaves as well as the deep historical changes that affected the lives of Black Gospel musicians have led to the creation, alteration, recreation and expansion of what is considered today one of the most sung Christian genres.   

Finally, because the history of gospel can somehow be complex to be told, this project also provides an interactive map that displays both the historical and geographical changes that led to the the creation of Gospel.

In short, the aim of this project is to present, through mapping technologies, a simplified way of observing the richness of Black Gospel music through its spatial and historical context.

Section Two: A narrative map of Gospel's history from the 1920s until today
Section Three: A chronological map displaying the evolution of Gospel Music
Section Four: Methodology
  • Getting familiar with the topic

In order to come across this timeline of Gospel music, I had to explore a handful of books, movies, websites, songs and documentaries , which allowed me to have a clearer and more concise vision of what Gospel is and how it evolved throughout history.

Among the books that I read, the three following books were particularly useful, mostly because of how they helped me identify key elements and periods in the history of Gospel.

Negro Spirituals, From Bible to Folk Song by Christa Dixon helped me get a better idea of slave spirituals. Through this book, I was able to get a sense of what slave spirituals were, how they were sung and used by slaves as well as their social and political purpose. This was an essential part of my research as it helped be have a better understanding of the very deep roots of Black Gospel Music.

The Power of Black Music by Samuel A. Floyd and People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden helped me gain a further understanding of the social, political and economic transitions that have occurred as Gospel evolved. Through these two books, I was able to get a better sense of how the rhythms, styles and purposes of Gospel were progressively altered, as major events occurred in the lives of African Americans. Moreover, these two books also provided me with a better understanding of various types of gospel, how they were sung as well as the type of instruments and dances that accompanied them.

  • Collecting and organizing Data

As I was reading these books, I progressively was taking notes on the figures that were often times mentioned as well as their contribution to the advancement of Gospel.

I then created a Google Spreadsheet in which I wrote down a list of all the leading figures in the history of Gospel Music as well as some of their most relevant hits. Through The Power of Black Music and People Get Ready, I was able to identify a couple places where some of these hits were published, which served as a spatial indicator for the maps that I later on produced. For the songs that I still missed quite a lot of information on, I used a database called, where I was able to find the dates when these songs were first published, the places where they were published, as well as the labels that produced them.

Using the places where these songs were first published as a measure for the spread of Gospel, rather than where they were performed seemed like the most practical and logical thing to do in my opinion.

In fact, it was quite difficult at times to find the locations where Black Gospel Music used to be performed, as performances by African Americans in the past were not always well documented. For instance, in order to get more accuracy, I used the states where these songs were published as my main indicator for space.

Once I had collected enough information for each of the songs in my spreadsheet, I separated them into four categories, based on when they were published as well as how they fitted into the various periods of Gospel history.

  • Mapping

The next step into my research was to map all the points that I had collected. To achieve this, I used a mapping platform called ArcGis and made a chronological map (Section 3) displaying the evolution of Gospel Music from the 1920s until today.

  • Story Map

Finally, I decided to make a narrative map on ArcGis in order to allow readers to visualize the evolution of Gospel Music through maps, historical backgrounds as well as musical sounds.

Section Five: Sources

Darden, Robert. People get ready!: a new history of black gospel music. New York: Bloomsbury academic, 2015.

Dixon, Christa K. Negro spirituals: from Bible to folk song. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1998.

Floyd, Samuel A. The power of black music interpreting its history from Africa to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.