Rooted in the rich tradition of African-American spirituals.
Gospel music has evolved over time. The genre's earliest beginnings are found in the music sung, and passed down, by enslaved people in America's South. This musical language consisted of hymns and songs that comprised their oral tradition, often using repetitive phrases, aiding those who longed to worship but couldn't read.
By the end of the 19th century, gospel music had expanded some, including any song noted for its spirituality and rhythm. Gospel music utilizes strong vocals and good harmonies, similar to its cousin, rhythm and blues. With the introduction of the radio, gospel music's popularity took off like never before. Originally serious in tone, gospel music today can instead be upbeat and praise-invoking.
Throughout the years, Black gospel continued to emerge with its own flavor, staying close to its roots. It's known as an early influence on rock and roll, and gospel rap/hip-hop.
Gospel music, then, has made a tremendous impact on music historically. It's a genre treasured by many, and is offered up in a variety of styles today. Here are 75 of the best gospel songs to help you better appreciate its gift to listening ears.
75 Best Gospel Songs
1. "This Train" - Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Popular in the 1930s and 1940s, Sister Rosetta Tharpe introduced the electric guitar to gospel music, paving the way to the earliest days of rock and roll.
2. "This Old House" - Stuart Hamblen
A southern gospel tune and popular country and western song as well, the story goes that Hamblen was hunting with a guide, Monte Wolfe, and fellow marksman, John Wayne. They came across a dilapidated house where a man had passed away, and found his dog still there, on guard.
3. "Amazing Grace" - Harlem Gospel Choir
Many a gospel song is a hymn, and a hymn is a gospel song. And no gospel music song list would be complete without a rendition of "Amazing Grace," written by John Newton.
4. "Blessed Assurance" - CeCe Winans
Beloved by Christians worldwide, American music writer, Fanny Crosby, wrote more than 8,000 hymns. At six weeks of age, Fanny had a minor eye inflammation, and the treatment administered left her blind. Her hymns are still well-known today.
5. "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" - Mahalia Jackson
This gospel song from the 1930s was sung by great American gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral in 1968. In turn, it was sung by Aretha Franklin at Jackson's funeral four years later.
6. "Lord, Remember Me" - Soul Stirrers
Here, guitar finds its way into gospel music, with the signature background doo-wops adding accompaniment as well.
7. "Children, Go Where I Send Thee" - The Fairfield Four
Adding rhythm to the acapella offering, this is a great example of early gospel music. Note the repetitive course, along with the use of numbers to aid in memory recollection.
8. "Can the Circle be Unbroken" - Carter Family
Born and raised in the Appalachian region, one of the Carter Family's many popular songs included a version of this 1908 hymn, with words by Ada Habershon and music by Charles Gabriel. They made a few signature changes to this song about a singer attending his mother's funeral.
9. "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" - The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi
Singing another classic hymn, this group started out as four blind students - Lawrence Abrams, Archie Brownlee, Joseph Ford, and Lloyd Woodard - from Piney Woods School for the Blind near Jackson, Mississippi in 1938. They added Melvin Henderson in 1942.
10. "People Get Ready" - The Blind Boys of Alabama w/Aaron Neville
In the 1930s, another group of boys was attending Talladega Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind near Birmingham, Alabama. They took their singing group on the road in the 1940s. You can still hear this quintet today.
11. "Only Believe" - The Swan Silverstones
Originally called the Four Harmony Kings, this quartet changed its name at the request of Swan Bakery, the sponsor of a program where the group had a 15-minute radio slot. The. Harmonies.
12. "I've Got so Much to Shout About" - Dixie Hummingbirds
Picking up the pace, adding hand claps and background vocals for a solid beat, the Dixie Hummingbirds performed this song at the Newport Folk Festival in 1966.
13. "O Happy Day" - The Edwin Hawkins Singers
In 1968, Edwin Hawkins, and his soprano-singing church pianist, Betty Watson, recruited the Northern California State Youth Choir to add a chorale ensemble to gospel music performances. "Oh Happy Day," originally an 18th-century hymn, remains a gospel standard, and has been covered by hundreds of artists across genres.
14. "I'll Fly Away" - Johnny Cash and June Carter
Joined by the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three, this version of a wildly popular gospel hymn, written in 1929 by Albert E. Brumley, aired on "The Johnny Cash" show in 1971.
15. "Midnight Cry" - Gold City
The genre, Southern Gospel, combines the sounds of American folk and gospel music. It has close ties to country and bluegrass, gaining in popularity in the mid-20th century, and never looking back.
16. "Holy Ground" - Geron David with TaRanda & Cana's Voice
A powerful recording of the worshipful song, "Holy Ground," including the story behind the song by its writer, Geron Davis. He is joined by Cana's Voice, a vocal group that includes TaRanda, Doug Anderson, Jody McBrayer and Geron Davis.
17. "Family of God" - Bill Gaither Trio
Here's an early recording of The Bill Gaither Trio, featuring Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither, and Danny Gaither. The Gaither Family (and friends) have performed gospel music for more than fifty years, and produced more than fifty albums.
18. "I Believe He's Coming Back" - The Happy Goodmans
Recorded for Gaither Music TV, this performance is by The Happy Goodmans, formed by Howard "Happy" Goodman in the 1940s. Various members of the family performed together for decades.
19. "Get Away Jordan" - Hovie Lister and The Statesman
Lead singer and pianist, Hovie Lister, a Baptist minister, led the popular quartet, The Statesman, in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s.
20. "Standing by the River" - The Speer Family
The theme of crossing over the river (often the Jordan) in gospel music is a reference to the Israelites crossing over the Jordan into the Promised Land (see Joshua 4:6-7). It represents deliverance from an old way of life into spiritual freedom, with God's help.
21. "Hallelujah" - The Clark Sisters
This song is sung by the highest-selling female gospel group, the Clark Sisters. Learn more about their story in the Lifetime movie: The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.
22. "God is Real" - Skip James
A branch of gospel music known as gospel blues, artists like Skip James combined the best of these two genres. Well-known for his guitar playing and melancholy appearances, he was sometimes laborer, a minister and also a blues player or gospel singer.
23. "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me" - Eric Bibb
An acoustic version of this old African-American spiritual. It captures the mood of the song well.
24. "My Soul Gonna Live with God" - Josh White
A blues offering or a Gospel offering? Gospel music often fits easily into multiple genres.
25. "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" - Whitney Houston
This gospel hymn, written in 1905, has been performed by many artists, but this one from the late Whitney Houston really captures the soulful feel of a traditional gospel song.
26. "Lord, Look Down On Me" - Bessie Griffin
Bessie, born Arlette B. Broll in New Orleans, Louisiana, was mostly a solo artist. In addition to recording songs, she sang on Broadway, and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.
27. "Look for Me at Jesus' Feet" - The Griffins
Here representing a newer style of gospel music, progressive southern gospel, this trio from South Carolina. They've performed at places like Dollyworld, and the Loretta Lynn Ranch.
28. "Swing Down Chariot" - Blackwood Brothers Quartet
This quartet won eight Grammy awards, and were pioneers in the Christian music industry, being the first to customize a "tour bus" for group travel.
29. "Scars In Heaven" - The Nelons
Blending gospel, a cappella, hymns, Americana, folk, and inspirational music, this group has appeared with a number of Southern Gospel groups. They're considered forerunners for what is today progressive southern gospel.
30. "Wade in the Water" - Cynthia Liggins Thomas
In this YouTube clip, we're told the chorus of this song was often sung at baptisms. The song was written during the era of slavery, but was not published until 1901.
31. "Looking for a City" - The Statler Brothers
If we're looking for a quintessential quartet from the 1950s-1990s, look no further. This recording was for their TV show, "The Statler Brothers."
32. "How I Got Over" - John Legend
John Legend surprises a Baptist church in West Philly by singing a gospel song from Aretha Franklin's iconic album, Amazing Grace.
33. "Rock of Ages" - Aretha Franklin
Speaking of Baptist churches and Aretha Franklin, here she is singing a timeless hymn, "Rock of Ages."
34. "There'll Be Peace in the Valley" - Thomas Dorsey
Dorsey was the writer of 3,000 songs, including the aforementioned "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," and this one.
35. "That's Alright" - Willie Mae Ford Smith
"Father" Dorsey (above) and "Mother" Willie Mae Ford Smith were featured in a 1982 documentary about the history of gospel music, "Say Amen, Somebody." Smith was an associate of Dorsey's who trained gospel singers for decades.
36. "People Get Ready" - Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir
Yes, gospel music has often gone international. Here, a large choir offers background vocals.
37. "People Get Ready" - Curtis Mayfield
It's the same song as above, but this time by the original artist.
38. "Your Grace and Mercy" - The Mississippi Mass Choir
Powerful and inspirational. You might get goosebumps when the choir goes into full swing.
39. "I Thirst" - The Cathedrals
Long-time affiliates with the Gaither family, this trio turned quartet got their beginnings in California, going on to perform for fifty years.
40. "Take Me to the Water" - Nina Simone
Singer and civil rights activist in the 1950s and 1960s, with a music career extending beyond that time. Simone studied classical piano at Juilliard for a time, before going on to perform in a variety of musical styles, including classical, folk, gospel, blues, jazz, R&B and pop.
41. "Will Your Anchor Hold (We Have An Anchor)" - Lor
This hymn goes by both names, and was written in 1882 by Priscilla Jane Owens, a woman of Scotch and Welsh descent.
42. "Good to Me" - Ni Cola
Welcome to the world of UK Gospel. Ni Cola's music, in the style of R&B and gospel, continues to grow in popularity.
43. "Never Would Have Made It" - Marvin Sapp
Sapp is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Since 1996, he's been performing as a solo artist, and has recorded seven albums. He is also a pastor.
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44. "Help is on the Way" - Doyle Lawson, Quicksilver
In another crossover style, groups like Quicksilver mix gospel music with a bluegrass feel.
45. "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" - Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson
Part of the Willie Nelson collection, this gospel classic is performed by Willie and his sister, Bobbie.
46. "He Leadeth Me" - The Martins
A well-loved family group that's been on The Gaither Family video series for more than a decade, singing a beloved hymn.
47. "Love Theory" - Kirk Franklin
Rounding out the realm of gospel music styles is urban contemporary gospel. Kirk Franklin, an American choir director and singer, is a highly popular performer in this genre.
48. "Open My Heart" - Yolanda Adams
A Houston, Texas native, this "Gospel Queen" is an American gospel singer, actress, and host of the "Yolanda Adams Morning Show," a radio-syndicated program. She is one of the best-selling gospel artists of all time, having sold over 10 million albums worldwide.
49. "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow" - Alison Krauss
This performance by bluegrass icon, Alison Krauss, surely isn't the only time the Grand Ole Opry has had gospel music sung from its stage.
50. "Little Brown Church in the Vale (The Church in the Wildwood)" - Tompall & The Glaser Brothers
The story behind this well-known folk tune is remarkable, and the eventual church is picturesque.
51. "The Family Who Prays" - Louvin Brothers
A brother duo who popularized close harmony, they first sang on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 1955.
52. "I Saw The Light" - Hank Williams
A country music legend singing one of his most popular songs, a gospel music one.
53. "Old Time Religion" - Golden Gate Quartet
In 1934, a group of four students from Booker T. Washington in Virginia, formed The Golden Gate Jubilee Singers, becoming the Golden Gate Quartet in 1940. They have performed gospel music internationally and continue to do so today.
54. "Peace in the Valley" - Elvis Presley
As performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957.
55. "Jesus Is Just Alright" - The Art Reynolds Singers
Fans of the 90s Christian rock and rap group, DC Talk, may recognize this song originally recorded in 1966. DC Talk released their version in 1992.
56. "Come Before His Presence" - Philip Bailey
A long-time member of the group, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bailey has also recorded as a solo artist, and done duets with Phil Collins and Little Richard.
57. "Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho" - Grant Green
A well-known African-American spiritual, making reference to the biblical telling of Joshua leading the Israelites out of the wilderness into the Promised Land. (Joshua 6:15-21).
58. "Jesus on the Mainline" - Ry Cooder and the Chicken Skin Band
An African-American gospel song dating back to the mid-1800s, but the original author is unknown. It's been performed by a number of artists over the years.
59. "Great Is Your Mercy" - Donnie McClurkin
This classical version, recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa, includes a symphony and choir.
60. "I Just Wanna Live" - Keedron Bryant
Here's the powerful song that touched millions, sung by then 12-year-old Keedron Bryant, after George Floyd's death. His mother wrote the song.
61. "I'd Rather Have Jesus" - George Beverly Shea
A long-time associate of Billy Graham, Shea put this poem, written in 1922, to music, and it became his musical "theme song."
62. "Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name" - Shirley Caesar
A 1987 gospel release, artist and pastor Shirley Caesar has been singing gospel songs since she was 12 years old.
63. "Morning Has Broken" - Orla Fallon
A gospel hymn goes Celtic. Beautiful.
64. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" - Seraphic Voices of Toronto
The haunting tone to this rendition of a negro spiritual will stick with you. It's attributed to The song is attributed to Wallace Willis, a slave from Oklahoma.
65. "Sanctuary" - Jessy Dixon
This song became a popular praise and worship song, but this recorded version from Gaither Music TV, is all rhythm and blues, and gospel.
66. "Going Up Yonder" - Lady Tramaine Hawkins
Often sung at funerals, Hawkins has been singing this song, written by her then-husband, Walter Hawkins, for decades.
67. "Touch the Hem of His Garment" - Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers
An aptly named group, this story tells the Bible story of the woman who touched the hem of his garment (Matthew 9:20-22).
68. "A Friend" - The Winans
The 1980s and 1990s were a successful time for a variety of gospel music. The Winans from Detroit, Michigan, were a big part of that.
69. "Mary, Don't You Weep" - Various Gospel Stars
In 2010, these stars took the Soul Train stage for a gospel music ride. A number of artists, like the Fisk Jubilee Singers (in 1921), have performed and recorded this Negro spiritual over the years. "Oh Mary, Don't You Weep, Don't You Mourn," is the longer title, originating in the days of American slavery.
70. "O Come Angel Band" - The Isaacs
This family group has won numerous awards over its 35-year career. They often travel on the Gaither Homecoming Tour circuit.
71. "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" - Charles Wesley Evans (TENET Vocal Artists)
This performance of a beloved African-American spiritual song took place in New York at a Candlelight Carols concert.
72. "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" - Louis Armstrong
Is there a more appropriate voice for this spiritual than Armstrong's deep, gravelly voice? And always with a smile.
73. "Down By The Riverside/Promise Land" - Andy Williams and Tennessee Ernie Ford
As seen on the "Andy Williams Show." Due to its pacifist imagery, the song has often been used in anti-war gatherings, particularly during the Vietnam War.
74. "Precious Memories" - Emmylou Harris
A perfect blend of bluegrass and gospel music and hymnody. Few genres crossover as much as gospel music does.
75. "Breathe On Us" - Kari Jobe
Gospel music continues to expand its branches, as heard in this popular song by worship artist, Kari Jobe. Its message remains eternal: God is with us, and that is good news.