Gospel music is a musical genre characterized by dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) referencing lyrics of a religious nature, particularly Christian. Subgenres include contemporary gospel, urban contemporary gospel (sometimes referred to as "black gospel"), and modern Gospel music (now more commonly known as praise and worship or Contemporary Christian music). Most forms of gospel music use piano and/or Hammond organ, drums, bass guitar and, increasingly, electric guitar.
Gospel music is believed to have first come out of African-American churches in the first quarter of the twentieth century or more loosely, to both black gospel music and to the religious music composed and sung by predominately white Southern Gospel artists. The sharp division between black and white America, particularly black and white churches, kept the two apart. While those divisions have lessened slightly in the past fifty years, the two traditions are still distinct. In both traditions, some performers, such as Mahalia Jackson have limited themselves to appearing in religious contexts only, while others, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Golden Gate Quartet and Clara Ward, have performed gospel music in secular settings, even night clubs. Many performers, such as The Jordanaires, The Blackwood Brothers, Al Green, and Solomon Burke have performed both secular and religious music. It is common for such performers to include gospel songs in otherwise secular performances, although the opposite almost never happens.
Gospel singer, songwriter, guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the first great star of Gospel music, surfacing on the pop music charts in 1938. She remained popular through the 1940s, continuing to hit the charts and drawing tens of thousands of fans to see her perform live in venues across the United States. She lost the support of some of her church fans, now and then, when she performed in secular venues as well, as when she recorded songs not recognized as 'Christian'. The fans she lost were somewhat forgiving, as she remained true to her faith, for the most part, throughout her recording career which spanned the remainder of her life.
Although predominantly an American phenomenon, gospel music has spread throughout the world including to Australia with choirs such as The Elementals and Jonah & The Whalers and festivals such as the Australian Gospel Music Festival. Norway is home to the popular Ansgar Gospel Choir, the only true Norwegian Gospel choir. Gospel is also popular in the province of Quebec, Canada, where important gospel choirs such as Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir and Québec Celebration Gospel Choir are famous.