Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Impact of Black Gospel Music on Popular Culture, Pt. 3

The Impact of Black Gospel Music on Popular Culture:
CL Franklin, Aretha Franklin, Kirk Franklin, and Beyond, Pt.3
By:  Angela Lee Price
Black gospel music historically has had a profound positive impact upon American culture, and indeed the world. During the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 60s, gospel music made a significant impact in helping rid this nation of discrimination and segregation. Black gospel music birthed soul music that contained themes of love, unity, uplift, and empowerment.
This short blog series will examine the impact of postmodernism upon the entertainment industry, particularly gospel and secular music, and the impacts gospel music has had upon society across the eras of "the Franklins," C.L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin, Kirk Franklin, and beyond.

By the time the 1980’s were in full swing, the sacred and secular had all but gotten a divorce. References in song to the virtues West, Vandrunen, and C.S. Lewis talked about as being essential to the moral integrity began to take a back seat to capitalistic interests. Whereas Aretha Franklin was affectionately referred to as the “Queen of Soul,” many postmodern experts proclaimed iconic entertainer Michael Jackson the “King of Pop,” and singer Madonna the “High Priestess of PoMo.” Also, the 1980s saw the national emergence of a new genre of music called rap and hip hop, which existed prior to that only as a subculture in northern cities, most particularly New York and her inner cities. Author Os Guinness in his critically acclaimed book on postmodernism, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What To Do About It stated:
“Take Madonna, ‘female icon’ of the 1980s. She is the ultimate spin doctor to her own PR, the consummate orchestrator of her own controlled, ever-changing, ever-commercial images. Call her shameless, call her cheap, call her cynical, call her pornographic, call her sacrilegious, call her what you like. There is no limit to what she will say, do, wear, mock, promote, degrade – all to draw attention to herself and sell her soul along with her latest image and product…Compared with Madonna’s deliberate abuse of Christian symbols, the Russian’s was the soul of sincerity….Madonna as a High Priestess of PoMo is the epitome of a fifth modern influence that confronts us in America today – popular postmodernism, including its devouring attitudes to truth, goodness, and beauty” (Guinness, 1994, p. 102).
In 1989, Madonna recorded the song, “Like A Prayer.” It was very controversial because the lyrics carried dual meanings about sex and religion. Madonna paved the way for Lady Gaga to wear meat on her body and call it art and for rapper Nikki Minaj to reach superstardom calling her demons her “alter egos.” The website said about Lady Gaga in a March 2011 post entitled, Lady Gaga - "Born This Way," Vertigo, Madonna, Hitchcock, Postmodernism, and Other Thoughts” that she is probably the definition of a pop music postmodernist. True, postmodernist theory and philosophy hasn't exactly been applied to pop music in any definitive sense (yet...I'll get on that), but if we scroll down a list of some general postmodern attributes every one of them smacks of Gaga:”, a Christian website that analyzes worldviews in popular culture, posted a review of the 2010 song “The Fly,” by Nikki Minaj stating:
“Although she sometimes talks about God in her songs, the rest of her lyrics, lifestyle, and confessions, indicate she holds to a more postmodern worldview. With this knowledge in mind, it is interesting to read the lyrics to one of her songs “Fly” featuring Rihanna. Minaj who in her own words claims she has demons that are either influencing or possessing her opens the song with this words, “...Everyone want to box me in suffocating every time it locks me in, paint they own pictures than they crop me in, but I will remain where the top begins. Cause I am not a word, I am not a line, I am not a girl that can ever be defined. I am not fly, I am levitation; I represent an entire generation....” (
Today, as many people debate trivial issues like whether it was okay of Beyonce Knowles-Carter to lip sync the National Anthem at the inauguration of President Obama, secular and hip hop music continue to shape the hearts and minds of impressionable youth with self-centered, materialistic, and misogynistic messages. Rapper Lil Wayne (as known as Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.), raps the postmodern mantra of self-centeredness in the song "She Will" featuring Drake, “I’m all about “I” give the rest of the vowels back!”

One of the most prolific voices trumpeting the gospel message in a postmodern era is gospel artist Kirk Franklin. He is a multi-talented award-winning singer, songwriter, record producer, music director, pianist, rapper, and television host. When he burst on the gospel music scene in the 1990s, Franklin quickly became a cutting-edge trendsetter with crossed-over appeal. About his early impact on black secular music, Craig Werner wrote in Higher Ground:
“The impact of the church-trained singers both reflected and contributed to a resurgence of gospel music. Gospel had never gone away, of course, but from the mid-seventies on, it had rarely made a direct impact on the pop charts, and its political statements were hears almost solely by a churchgoing African American audience. Summon memories of Sam Cooke, Kirk Franklin emerged as the most powerful force in gospel’s reengagement with black secular music. Incorporating hip-hop beats and R&B production techniques into his gospel compositions, Franklin used his Gospocentric label to help reopen a crossover market that had been closed for the better part of two decades” (Werner, 2004, p. 281).
By 1994, Kirk Franklin had released two albums, “Why We Sing,” and “Whatcha Lookin’ 4.” His second album did better than the first hitting Billboard’s Top 200 chart at number 23, the R&B chart at number 5, and both the video and the contemporary Christian charts at number 1. Commenting on the success of the album, Franklin wrote in his book, Church Boy, “That was the highest breakout ranking of any gospel album in history, and we were totally blessed by it” (Franklin, 1998, 169). 
Franklin admitted experiencing a lot of criticism from people in the church who complained that he had become too secular with his edgy, contemporary style, “Some of our strongest critics, especially inside the church, said we have turned our backs on traditional gospel music and were just contemporary R&B artists exploiting Christian lyrics for the money. But that’s not true” (Franklin, 1998, 165).

The Impact of Black Gospel Music on Popular Culture, Pt. 1
The Impact of Black Gospel Music on Popular Culture, Pt. 2
Where Is the Love in Love Songs and in Society?
The Gravity of Gospel Hip Hop
Negro Spirituals Come Full Circle


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