I had thought that Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was a recent development – say, back in the early nineties or eighties. But that’s really just when I became aware of it. I’ve come to understand that it’s older than that, and it has a turbulent history in regards to matters of scandal and sexuality. A post at Unorthodoxology hits some of the high points:
I’d like to tell you a little story. It’s about a woman who wrote and performed innovative Christian music, becoming arguably the most popular female Christian artist of her time. So successful was she that her songs were even used in hymnals and songbooks across the world.
But a few years after her success, she came out as a lesbian and was buried under a heap of criticism.
Sounds a bit familiar, right?
But this isn’t the story of Jennifer Knapp, the popular Christian artist who came out this month as a lesbian. This is the story of Marsha Stevens, the woman who has been called the mother of Contemporary Christian Music. She began her career in the late 1960s and penned the popular song “For Those Tears I Died.” But her revelation of her sexuality in 1979 exiled her from mainstream Christian music.
Yes, the woman who birthed CCM was a lesbian.
Casting the net more broadly is Douglas Harrison at Religion Dispatches. He looks at Gospel musicians, including the legendary Sister Rosetta Tharp. Tharp’s electric guitar work in the 1940s sounds decades ahead of it’s time, but apparently rumors circulated about her relationship with a another female performer. There’s also the “King of Gospel” James Cleveland, Kirk Talley and others. According to Harrison:
Not for nothing has Bishop Yvette Flunder said that gospel music is gay music. But it’s not just gospel. From traditional black and Southern (or white) gospel, to praise and worship and inspirational, to Contemporary Christian music, you can’t swing a Dove Award (the Grammies of Christian entertainment) without hitting upon evidence of the longstanding, deep-set presence of queer experience in, and its influence on, Christian music culture at all levels: from performers on down the line to piano players, back-up singers and other supporting musicians, choir directors and song leaders, songwriters, producers, and managers, and of course, ordinary fans.