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Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul: WXPN/NPR Four-Part Documentary Series on WRTI 90.1

A scene from the the final episode of Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul

Hosted by GRAMMY-winning gospel singer CeCe Winans, Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul illustrates the influence of Black gospel on early rock and soul music through in-depth interviews with historians and musicians, and a backdrop of gospel, rock and soul music. Listen on WRTI 90.1 on February 10, 17, 24, and March 3 from 8 to 9 AM.

The series explores the history and foundation of Black gospel from spirituals, and how those songs informed the music of the great gospel quartets. (Read a great essay about the series here.)  In examining how rock, soul, and R&B grew from the roots of gospel, it highlights highly influential artists such as Sam Cooke, who transitioned from gospel to secular music; Sister Rosetta Tharpe and her early rock stylings; and Elvis Presley, who helped expose white audiences to gospel music.

Examples of some of the most beloved contemporary pop music of the last 60 years, from artists such as Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Ray Charles, illustrate gospel music’s influence.

Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul also features exclusive live performances recorded by WXPN within the last year from gospel groups The Fairfield Four, The McCrary Sisters, and The Dixie Hummingbirds. More information here on WXPN's website devoted to the series.

February 10 at 8 AM: The series begins with Sam Cooke in 1955 singing in what would be one of his last performances as a gospel musician before crossing over to pop music. The hour examines the history and foundation of black gospel from spirituals and how those songs informed the gospel music of the great gospel quartets including The Dixie Hummingbirds, The Pilgrim Travelers, The Golden Gates, The Caravans, and The Soul Stirrers featuring Sam Cooke. The episode ends with the story of Sam Cooke’s ascent into the pop world. Listen to the music featured in this episode.

February 17 at 8 AM: Next, we look at how rock, soul and R&B grew out of the roots of Gospel. By the mid-20th century, gospel music was a force in America. It was capturing the attention of record companies and audiences across the nation. Sam Cooke’s emergence as a soul singer epitomized this moment. Sister Rosetta Tharpe defined what it meant to be a rock star and influenced some of the early rock and rollers. Chess Records’ singer Mitty Collier tasted the highs of the pop life before she became a Pastor and The Edwin Hawkins Singers solidified gospel music’s place alongside pop music with their mainstream hit song, “Oh Happy Day.” Listen to the music featured in this episode.

February 24 at 8 AM: This episode spotlights the stories of Elvis Presley’s gospel music influences and how he brought gospel to white audiences, the role of gospel music in the civil rights movement with Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples, and the bridging of pop and gospel music with Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye.
Listen to the music featured in this episode.

March 3 at 8 AM: The series wraps up with music from Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers, Aretha Franklin, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Rance Allen, Al Green, Mahalia Jackson, The Golden Gate Quartet, The Swan Silvertones, and live performances from The Fairfeld Four, Dixie Hummingbirds, and The McCrary Sisters.

Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul, produced by WXPN and distributed by NPR.