Let KPK Introduce You To…The Use of (Gospel) Choirs

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, M.S.L.S.

University of South Carolina Lancaster

The use or application of the (gospel) choir aestethic or sound is a staple in popular Western music, and the artists who have used the imagery or sound go from rock  and pop to rapIn an essay discussing how the African-American creative and cultural tradition of gospel music is preserved or transformed as it moves around the globe, Burnim links the original context of gospel music and its role in the African-American community to its unexpected introduction into American mainstream music (solidified by creative and consumer success markers):

As a genre that came to most strongly define the worship of the vast majority of African Americans regardless of denomination, gospel remained largely in the domain of African American congregants — that is, church folk — until the late 1960’s, when Edwin Hawkins released Let Us Go into The House of the Lord, with its ever-popular single “O Happy Day” unexpectedly hitting the radio airways, claiming unparalleled chart success and subsequent sales in excess of one million copies… (2016, 471)

While gospel music is primarily the vehicle by which African-Americans practiced aspects of their religion, it is also a form of music that has close ties to the continent and cultures of Africa. With those multitudes of cultures come expanded channels of creativity, and you can hear those elements in gospel music, including:

  • call and response
  • syncopation
  • cross-rhythms
  • improvisation (Rucker-Hillsman, 2014)

Noting links to commercial success and the musicality imbued in the gospel choir,  international artists have also incorporated the sound into their music.

Let’s take a look at the gospel choir’s entry into K-pop:

Artist: Jonghyun

Press Play to Hear “할렐루야 ” (Hallelujah)” from Jonghyun’s album Base (released January  12, 2015).

In a 2015 interview, Jonghyun noted that he did not originally intend to have a choir but that his interest in gospel music spurred him to update the arrangement. 

Jonghyun documents choir members recording the background vocals for “Hallelujah.”

Works Cited

Burnim, M. (2016). Tropes of continuity and disjuncture in the globalization of gospel music. In S.A. Riley & J.M. Dueck (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Music and World Christianities. Oxford University Press (pp. 469-488).

Rucker-Hillsman, J. (2014). Gospel music: An African-American art form. Victoria, BC, Canada: Freisen Press.