"Gospel music is hymns," my Gospel-style piano teacher told me. An amazing musician, he held two bachelor degrees in music from Jackson State, and was the music director emeritus of a large African-American church in Chicago. His statement, out of context, might have raised a few questions, but I knew what he meant.
Of course black Gospel music is more than the Reformation-based, European SATB songs of the 16th through the 20th century. Black Gospel has had plenty of its own great composers that have written using the structure of hymnody (e.g. Thomas Dorsey, Andrae Crouch, Richard Smallwood). However, I think a point that my teacher was making was that congregants of African-American churches do additionally connect with certain hymns written by non-black composers (e.g. Fanny Crosby), and that there are hymns that can also sound really powerful when there's some "Gospel flavor" added. So, I'd like to continue the conversational blog series about such hymns.
Before, I talked about "I Am Thine, O Lord," "What A Friend We Have In Jesus," "He Touched Me" and "Amazing Grace." Today, I'd like to talk about "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."
Over the past year, I've really come to enjoy and be edified by the preaching of Albert Tate of Fellowship Monrovia (California). His sermons bring powerful points, convictions and humor, and he has a strong musical background. During one of his sermons this past year, he closed off with this hymn. Tate slowed it down, and added some vocal improv between phrases and really connected it to his sermon's main points. There's also Mahalia Jackson's rendition.