Andraé Crouch was one of the many Gospel artists of the 1970s that influenced the work of modern Gospel artists and groups such as Brandon Camphor & OneWay. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor

In 2021 we hear a lot of folks emphasize being “woke,” but in Christian American history, “The Great Awakening,” refers to periods of religious revival. In a 1976 New York Magazine article, author Tom Wolfe refers to the 1970s, not only as “The Me Decade,” but the, “Third Great Awakening.” Wolfe, was referring to the changes in all around culture in the United States, but the “Third Great Awakening,” rings true for the revival and newness that came with 1970s Gospel music. Shifting from traditional church hymns and spirituals, the 1970s brought a new vitality to the Gospel genre. Gospel went beyond the four walls and steeple of the church building, to mainstream and on the airwaves- paving a way for artists today.

From Edwin Hawkins and Shirley Miller’s “Oh Happy Day,” which was originally recorded in 1968 and popularized in the 70s, to Andraé Crouch’s “Take Me Back,” (1975) and the Staple Singers, “I’ll Take You There,” (1972) Gospel adapted a more modern, popular music sound  that appealed to all generations and opened doors for the next generation of Gospel artists whose beats are so appealing they may get played on secular stations, and touch the hearts of both Christians and non-believers.

Billboard charting Gospel group, Brandon Camphor & OneWay have spent the last decade moving audiences with their beautiful harmonies, marvelous meshing melodies and uplifting sounds. While the members of the group are all millennials, the Gospel group told the AFRO they have been majorly influenced by the groundbreaking artists and artistry of 1970s Gospel.

“When I think of Gospel music of the 70s I think of the cultural renaissance that period was and the beginning of a clearer distinction between Traditional Gospel and Contemporary Gospel,” Fred Cleveland, member of Brandon Camphor & OneWay said. “Though many of the songs of that time can now be viewed as Traditional, they still carry so much life because they were written to reach the soul. I am still moved by many of the songs of the 70s. Their impact is both musical and spiritual.”

“There are some songs that are only relevant for the time in which they were created. The intention of their existence is clear the moment you hear it. Then, there are impactful songs that transcend generations and time. There are several songs I can think of from the 70’s era that left a lasting impact on me, which is why I greatly respect this particular era of music,” Brandon Camphor told the AFRO. “It is amazing to me that a song could be birthed in a time that I did not exist, and it still touches me in a way that would make me feel it was written for today.  When I hear songs like ‘Take Me Back’ by Andraé Crouch, I am always moved by the sincerity of the message that the song conveys. The message, the musical, and the spirit of his songs are what makes his songs transcend time. A standard was set for gospel music.”

Group member, Angela Marie Jones also weighed in on the significance of 1970s Gospel music.

Billboard charting Gospel group Brandon Camphor & OneWay told the {AFRO} they have been inspired by the work of Gospel artists from the 1970s. (Courtesy Photo)

“The groups and the songs of the 70s greatly influenced contemporaries as groups like the Clark Sisters, the Hawkins, and composers like James Cleveland and Andraé Crouch gave us soul-filled songs that faith groups still sing today. They have timeless harmonies and melodies that have been staples for the mainstream world also,” she said.

As the 1970s were filled with socialand political changes and uprisings, post the Civil Rights Movement and assassination of great leaders, during the Black Panther Movement and the shifts to understanding the incfluence and importance of Blackness to American culture, the Contemporary Gospel group considered what it took for the artists of that era to not only create a new sound of music, but share it with the masses.  With America going through similar social and political shifts, Brandon Camphor & OneWay cannot only relate, but are finding ways to add their voices to the conversation, such as with their new acapella rendition of the Black National Anthem- “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  

Camphor considered the major vulnerability and commitment necessary for all artists, and the bravery it took for the Gospel musicians of the 70s to create music that appealed to the masses.

“The final commandment Jesus gave while on earth was to ‘go and make disciples of men,’ often referred to as the great commission,” Camphor said. “Gospel artists who achieve crossover success pay a great price becoming subject to the opinions of others on how well they have or haven’t represented the gospel. I would imagine that the artists of the 70s era who introduced more of a modern sound must have dealt with some level of criticism. Despite criticism, their modern sound was a key tool to their songs crossing over into the mainstream market.  I’ve come to understand that taking the cross over is a difficult task in itself. Let alone achieving this at a time when social and political tensions were at an all time high. The Gospel music became a soundtrack of that time to encourage people to have hope. The intentionality of incorporating  modern elements made the message that much more palatable for all people. The proof is in the fact that we still sing  some of these songs today.”

Jones told the AFRO that despite the criticism that may have come with Gospel’s mainstream sound in the 1970s, the positive message and feelings of the music trumped the negative comments about its more pop sound- particularly in a time of social and political unrest.

“I believe there was much tension within some settings, however, given some of the nation’s political and social issues, the songs that brought assuredness, comfort, joy, and love, pushed the whole world forward. The crossover sound infusing blues, jazz, and soul, brought gospel in front of the ‘secular’ sound,” Jones said.

While the mainstream crossover may have been controversial, Cleveland considered early 20th century Gospel history as a means of evaluating the history and place for a contemporary sound in the sacred music.

“I believe it was extremely challenging in many ways to be the vessel who would be responsible for bringing two very different words together,” Cleveland said. “They had to be strategic in finding commonalities between the culture of society and the culture of church. I’ve heard of stories of artists being kicked out of churches. But ultimately those commonalities were found and in many cases expected because the true foundation of Gospel Music sound is Contemporary. When you look into the history of Gospel music, Thomas A. Dorsey was formally a Blues composer & musician. Blues was the sound of that time during the development of Gospel Music. So the Gospel Music sound was heavily influenced by the contemporary Blues Music of that time.”

Cleveland also considered those artists of the 60s and 70s whose roots were in the church and their Gospel influences could still be heard in their secular sounds.

“Outside of the church the groundwork had been laid by artists who came out of the church, like Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, who were mainstream music artists during the rise of Soul Music. And the foundational sound and feel of Soul music is Gospel music. The main distinction between the two- their content. So artists being more lyrically intentional about words that could reach people and not just the traditional church culture, made the difference in making Gospel Music more effectively accepted in the mainstream.”

While these millennial musicians were not alive for the 1970s Gospel explosion, they told the AFRO they have been heavily influenced by the artists and music of that time.

“There is much to gain by being aware of the evolution of Gospel as the same trends of merging sound, soul, and sanctification can be heard in artists such as Kirk Franklin, Anthony Brown & Group Therapy, and Brandon Camphor & OneWay, to name a few,” Jones said.

“I believe the sound, intention and wisdom of the 70’s is very evident in the music I create today.  “The attempt to create classic melodies colored so beautifully with musical chords is my best effort to live up to the standard set by a legend like Andraé Crouch. His lyrics were poignant, genuine, heartfelt, yet biblical.  When I write songs, I often go down a checklist of musical elements that each song needs to have. Many of the items on that list are directly related to things I learned listening to the music of Andraé Crouch,” Camphor said. 

“I appreciate my parents for exposing me to diverse music of this generation. As a kid, I recognized that there was something special about that era of music. Now that I am older, I am intentional on making music that provides that same feeling,” Camphor added.

Cleveland also reflected on his childhood as the son of two musicians.

“I have very much been influenced by music and artists of the 70s. This was the music my parents grew up on, so growing up my parents would play nothing but Andraé Crouch. I was getting just as much of an impact from that music than I was getting from the contemporary music of my time. These songs were coupled with stories, by my parents, of that time. So I really got to learn a lot about The Hawkins family, Andraé Crouch, James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir, and so many others. My parents, both musicians, sang in Dr. Mattie Moss-Clark workshop choirs. At a young age, I was able to see Andraé Crouch’s impact on the biggest Pop music celebrities such as Michael Jackson, and work with Michael Jackson on multiple occasions. I was able to watch mainstream movies like The Color Purple, and hear music arranged by him. Many of these artists showed us how substance and authenticity can lead to longevity,” Cleveland explained. “Because of many of these artists my perspective on who I can reach with the mess of Gospel music is wider. I know that my gift is for more than those who come into the confines of the four walls of a church building. I’ve also learned from their experience that even when sometimes misunderstood, never forget or throw away the tradition, but always be courageous enough to move forward when it’s time to, because there’s always more.”

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Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor