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The Blurring of the line between Secular & Gospel Music
By Keith Crosby

On March 15, 2005, Dr. Teresa L. Reed, associate professor of music and director of the African-American Studies Program at Tulsa University, and author of “The Holy Profane: Religion in Black Popular Music” was a guest speaker on The University of Michigan – Dearborn campus. She spoke to a packed classroom of students and guests about how the blurring of the line between black secular and holy music has evolved over the last century. Dr. Reed deals with this topic at-length in her book. Those in attendance appeared to be very interested in the topic as she lectured and played audio and video clips to support her position.

Dr. Reed took us back several centuries to the music and cultural traditions of West Africans. She explained that their music was purely functional and neither secular nor sacred. However, as Africans faced new challenges in America during slavery and post-slavery eras, our music began to change. Spiritual and religious themes would become common-place in blues, R&B, funk, and eventually rap. Dr. Reed also spoke about blues never really being secular. Most blues artists, she noted, went back and forth between gospel and blues. One such artist was the father of gospel music, Thomas Dorsey.

Dr. Reed mentioned that around the middle of the 20th century Christian artists began “crossing over” to secular music. She noted Sam Cooke, the son of a holiness preacher, who was not the first to “crossover” from gospel but was the first big gospel artist to do so and found huge success on the “other” side.

Dr. Reed went on to note the presence of religious or spiritual themes in the secular music of other well known African-American artists including Earth, Wind, & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Tupac Shakur, as well as the recent popular song, “Jesus Walks,” by Kanye West.

To read more of Dr. Reed’s views on the subject you can purchase her book online at Amazon.com by clicking on the following link:

The Holy Profane: Religion in Black Popular Music


To find out more information about the African and African-American Studies program at The University of Michigan – Dearborn please visit their website at http://casl.umd.umich.edu/AAAS/.




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