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Historical Background
Lesson One
Lesson Two
Lesson Three
Lesson Four

Lesson Three-
Gospel Music Meets a Wide Audience

The following lesson is designed to be used after viewing all or part of Episode Three of American Roots Music. The lesson deals with the emergence of gospel as a form of popular music among a general public in the years following World War II. Gospel is a musical genre with roots in the African American church, particularly in the South. Between the 1940s and the 1960s, musicians such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson and the Staple Singers brought gospel to the attention of a broad, secular audience. This lesson is appropriate for middle school or high school Music or Social Studies classes.


   Students will be able to:
   Identify some of the leading figures in post-war gospel music.
   Compare the differences in style and approach of several gospel musicians.
   Analyze and discuss how music has different meanings in different social contexts.

Estimated Time

   One 40-60 minute class period


   Content Standard #9

  • Students classify by genre or style and by historical period or culture unfamiliar but representative aural examples of music and explain the reasoning behind their classifications
  • Students identify sources of American music genres (e.g., swing, Broadway musical, blues) trace the evolution of those genres, and cite well-known musicians associated with them
  • Students identify various roles (e.g., entertainer, teacher, transmitter of cultural tradition) that musicians perform, cite representative individuals who have functioned in each role, and describe their activities and achievements
   Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning    http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/docs/contents.html
  • Understand the relationship between music and history and culture (Music).


Episode Three of American Roots Music
To prepare for the lesson, teachers may want to read the brief biographies of Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Staple Singers, Clara Ward Singers, and the Golden Gate Quartet in The Songs & The Artists section of this website. For more information on gospel, teachers can visit: http://www.pbs.org/riverofsong/teachers/ext3.html#Gospel


   Before viewing, ask students the following questions:

What is gospel music? Where are you most likely to hear gospel music?
How is gospel music supposed to make you feel?

   Ask students to pay particular attention to the styles of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson as they watch the video segment.

   View segment of Episode Three of American Roots Music, beginning at 20:55, until 31:30.

   After viewing, ask students the following questions:

What are some of the differences in the performing styles of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson?
Why did some in the religious community denounce Sister Rosetta Tharpe for her style of playing gospel?
Is it appropriate to play religious music in bars and nightclubs? Why or why not?


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