Gospel's most widely read columnist asks why British gospel still languishes far behind the American variety in the quality stakes.
As long as the Lord tarries people will always compare British and American gospel artists, discuss the relative merits of each and conclude that American gospel is best.
Over the past few months I've met a number of people who have all stated that British gospel artists are not a patch on the Americans, referring to British artists with such terms as unprofessional, second rate and lack lustre. Unfortunately, I've been unable to say anything when these opinions are given, because, on the whole, I agree with them.
I have had the pleasure of seeing both American and British gospel artists in action and I have to confess that if I was given a choice between British and American artists, in all but a few instances I would choose an American.
Before you accuse me of being unpatriotic, please let me explain my reasons for my perspective. My preference for American artists has nothing to do with vocal ability; Britain has numerous artists whose voices are comparable to their American counterpart. My bias stems from the fact that Americans are just better, in terms of style and quality of their performances, the songs they sing and the stage presence they often exude. Let me state here, I've seen some pretty dismal American performances too but on the whole, the majority I've seen have been good.
Listening to gospel music should be an experience which leaves one uplifted, exhilarated and inspired. American gospel artists understand this and take audiences through a tumult of emotions and experiences as they sing. Often times, when I've gone to a concert featuring an American singer well honed in their craft, I feel as if I've undergone every experience and emotion a Christian will suffer on their walk with Christ, but by the end of it my heart feels light, my burdens are lifted and my soul inspired. It's very rare that British gospel artists leave me feeling this way and it's because they don't fully understand the fundamentals of being a gospel singer.
The greatest artists in gospel are not necessarily those with the finest voices. Just think of James Cleveland who often gruffed his way through gospel songs; Andrae Crouch, whose thin, lean voice has graced some of gospel's classic songs; or even the far from top quality Sallie Martin, who, along with Thomas Dorsey, put gospel music on the map. These artists were people who stretched the gifts and talents God gave them.
Gospel's greatest singers possess artistic flair, style, panache and star quality and the ones who reach the top are dedicated, work hard at developing their craft, glean ideas from others, never turn down a gig during the early stages of their career and aim to touch hearts and souls through their music.
Too few British artists are interested in honing and developing their craft through hard graft. British gospel artists who have or are making an impact such as the London Community Gospel Choir, John Francis and the Inspirational Choir, the Trumpets Of Zion, the Spirit Of Watts, and more recently, the Wades, Dawn Thomas and Divine. These are artists who are simply devoted to being good artists.
The American gospel scene may have an historical advantage over the British scene due to the fact that it is the home of gospel music, has been going much longer and has an established gospel circuit and record companies, but talent is talent wherever it originates.
God has blessed both Americans and black Britons with the gift of music and song, and he expects both to use and cultivate what he has given. When larger numbers of British gospel artists begin to recognise that to be the best takes work, I personally believe that the British gospel scene will be transformed, and no longer will I have to wait for the Americans to come over to taste and hear gospel music at its best.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.