Monday, January 21, 2002

I got to look at the cartoon history of modern Christian music in Reason, and it's cartoonish in more ways than one. I'm going to give a quick tour guide and history of "Christian contemporary" music from a guy who's been listening to it for almost two decades. It's a common part of church history to bring contemporary style into worship music. Hymnist Charles Wesley, one the founders of the Methodist movement, took drinking songs of the era and gave sanctified lyrics to them. [Update 8/21-Wesley and drinking songs seems to have been an urban legend, although Martin Luther did do so] Thomas Dorsey (not big-band Tommy Dorsey) was credited with starting modern black gospel by blending blues styling with a Biblical message. Eventually, the rock era would get sanctified, too. While there were Christian artists who worked in a contemporary mode in the 60s and 70s, a genre didn't start to develop until the 80s. Key artists that came up in that era were the album-rock-styled Petra and the adult-contemporary-styled Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Soon, more Christian artists were producing music with a top-40 feel with biblically sound lyrics. Stryper, a heavy-metal Christian band, was getting MTV play. Hard-to-genrefy Carman, who combined story-telling and contemporary music with a "radically saved" demeanor, became a frame of reference for many young believers. The theologically deep and gently moving songs of Michael Card and Twila Paris reinforced many people's faith, and First Call brought a Manhattan Transfer-style of coed vocals to the mix. The 80's also saw a generation of Christian parents brought up in the rock era that didn't instinctively equate it to rebellious sensuality. Church music was reformed as well, as charismatic and some other evangelical churches started to use more folk-based praise songs to supplement or replace the traditional hymnal. By the 90's, most media markets had a "Christian Contemporary" station to supplement the old hymn-based music of the standard Christian station. While Amy Grant went off in search of pop stardom, Kathy Trocolli, Cindy Morgan, Margaret Becker and Out of the Grey filled in the female pop niche. Point of Grace brought a Wilson Phillips-like female harmony while 4 Him and Phillips Craig and Dean brought an adult contemporary male harmony sound to their biblically sound music. Avalon picked up the First Call mantle of mixed harmony. DC Talk (in the spirit of today, check out "Free at Last") brought hip-hop to the fore. Steven Curtis Chapman brought a mix of southern-tinged pop, while Bryan Duncan brought a McCartneyesque (check out his recent remake of "Maybe I'm Amazed") gentleness to the scene. The sibling act of BeBe and CeCe Winans brought an R&B touch to the scene. The late Rich Mullins was the poet-lauriet of the group, with his "Awesome God" resting as one of the great anthems of the genre. A generation of modern praise and worship music blossomed in the 90s, with Ron Kenoly, Darlene Zschech, Alvin Slaughter and Matt Redmon helping to redo the musical canon of many churches. As the millennium hit, new artists came up to reflect the times. The modern boy band has its analogs in Plus One and True Vibe, while The Darins and ZoeGirl provide the girl group analogs. Rebecca St. James is becoming the next generation's Twila Paris, while Salvador does gospel Santana-style. Stacie Orrico , Michelle Tumes and Rachel Lampa have promise as the next lady divas of the circuit. Third Day gives a Hootie and the Blowfish roots-rock feel to their music. Delirious? and Sonic Flood lead a group of energetic praise bands. I have a link at the bottom to K-love, a national Christian Contemporary network, which is extremely representative of the genre. There's even more diversity today; in my area, there's a Christian rock-alternative station for Gen Y listeners that think that 4 Him and Steven Curtis Chapman are too bland. I'll give a good list of a few key albums for a Christian Contemporary starter set later today. I'll thank the Insolvent Republic of Blogistan for the link-you've earned a spot on the Wall of Fame. [Update 1/30- Jaci Velasquez, maybe the most evocative female singer going, was left off. She showed up later in the 90's, thus mentally missing my 90's and up-and-comers paragraphs. The Newsboys and Audio Adrenalin, while a bit too rock for my tastes, should have been given a mention in the 90s section as well]

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