Is That Southern Gospel? (Part II, because I felt like it)

Is That Southern Gospel? (Part II, because I felt like it) May 31, 2011

Here’s the second part of my thoughts/ramblings on what southern gospel is and isn’t. (Part I here.) Except this part is really a cogitation on the difference between the label “CCM” and the label “SG.”
Contemporary Christian Music is such a vague umbrella term that it can encompass every sound and style of music, as long as it is (or claims to be) “Christian” in some way. Though it’s getting harder to tell what that’s even supposed to mean, especially when you look at the albums Christianity Today seems to consider as falling in that category. But even if we grant, for the moment, that the music is generally coming from a Christian perspective, it can be rock, pop, heavy metal, light jazz, or folk and still be called CCM.

This isn’t true for southern gospel music, because that label is pin-pointing a very specific style and sound. Granted, there is flex room for influences from other styles. Perhaps there’s a jazz piano or a bluegrass fiddle, or perhaps a song has a country or pop flare. But too much borrowing can lead away from “southern gospel music” pretty quickly. Sort of like Garth Brooks and country music. (Though whatever you want to call him, he’s pretty darn good.) I’m not saying that this means we should find a new label, I’m just pointing it out as a matter of curiosity.
So what are some key characteristics of the “true southern gospel sound?” Well, there’s a certain male quartet sound that could really only be described as southern gospel. It’s very hearty and expressive, completely different from the barbershop quartet. There’s also the convention sound, which can display itself in the piano or in vocal harmonies. It doesn’t get much more southern gospel than an old convention song. I could give numerous examples, but “Give the World a Smile” is coming to mind as one perfect example.
It seems like that’s only the tip of the iceberg though. I could keep rambling to try to express what I’m getting at, but I think I’ll let you guys pick up the conversation from here. Feel free to be verbose.

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  • Since CCM takes in basically anything current and new in “Christian” music, isn’t new Southern Gospel also contemporary?

  • Yeah, that’s a good point that’s probably occurred to me as well. Though the word in SG circles is “progressive,” which amuses me because “new” doesn’t always equal “progress” even if sometimes it does happen to be good music. 🙂 But the music some SG artists are making arguably could fit comfortably in a CCM mold.
    I think the bottom line is that these kinds of things aren’t really cut and dried. There’s room for mixing it up and overlapping, etc. I was just noting that it seems like “southern gospel” is a more specific label than “contemporary Christian music.”

  • quartet-man

    There is some SG that could probably find a place in CCM (although admittedly probably at the edge). CCM basically these days seems to be defined as non-southern, bluegrass or country, with religious lyrics (although maybe not on the same topics as SG sometimes is), or with more vague lyrics (love type songs that are left up to the interpretation) , with songs by CCM artists (maybe even secular) or by artists who for some reason appeal to the CCM market. 😀

  • You summed it up pretty well. 🙂 Actually though, the bulk of what I would call CCCM (Commercial Contemporary Christian Music), seems to be run-of-the-mill pop/rock. So in terms of what’s actually “pushing units,” perhaps it’s not really as varied as all that.

  • quartet-man

    I agree it mostly is pop type stuff, but they do vary a little (as does SG). What I believe though, in relationship to P&W (and I think I have mentioned this somewhere before, but not sure if it was here) is that P&W is considered so modern by many in the church, but in reality, pop music in the ’80’s sounds (some I really like) much more modern to me.

  • Yes, it was here. 🙂
    Now of course that brings up the whole question of exactly what “modern” means…

  • quartet-man

    I thought this place was the most likely. I guess modern might mean more like the “world”. 😉 No, this isn’t saying Christian music can’t sound like the world or is evil if it does. However, I think it stands to reason that modern means current times and since the church is behind the curve in current times, that it means more like secular music.