Germany (Part II: Influences)
Bernd Grimmel and Sebastian Hentsch are both dedicated devotees of Gospel music, and taken together, are a wealth of information about the scene in Germany, both now and over the decades. Hentsch sings with The Kitago Voices, based in Leipzig, Germany.
This double article is a part of our ongoing series titled Gospel Around The World.
This kind of music is still loved all over the world, and of course, countless German church choirs perform these works regularly during masses or in concert halls.
In the second half of the last century, however, something altogether new entered Germany as well as in other parts of Europe. It was Afro-American Gospel music that touched the hearts of thousands and made them not only listen, but also desire to sing and perform this style of religious music themselves.
Let's examine some of important influences on German Gospel music, and introduce some of the choirs, groups and voices that keep Gospel music attracting more and more fans in Germany.
The first recordings of Germans singing Gospel date back to 1957 (Spiritual Studio Düsseldorf). Edwin Hawkin's "Oh Happy Day" was the next important milestone, the hit song was the impetus to the launch of several Gospel choirs.
Hawkins' immense success let to the founding of small Gospel groups and choirs, especially in the former West Germany, with a few of these choirs founded in the early 70's still in existance today. They mostly concentrated on traditionals and spirituals in melody only, or else on four-part harmony acappella style. Those who had the ability accompanied their singing with instruments such as guitar or piano, or even with complete bands.
The only group that gained a nationwide audience, including television appearances, was The Les Humphries Singers. They were set up in 1970 by the ex- British Royal Marine Les Humphries and consisted of multi-racial singers from all over the world. They sang a modern, rhythmic style of Gospel, with an obvious flower-power pop and rock influence. During their career they released more than thirty albums of not only Christian, but also secular music. Nevertheless their breakthrough came with songs like "Rock My Soul", "We Are Goin' Down Jordan" and "Old Time Religion".
Germany has a long tradition of church choirs, but with the youth there was a need for new and modern songs and for different interpretations besides the traditional congregational singing. Official hymn-books, authorized by the Protestant (Lutheran) Church (one of the two largest churches in Germany), have been revised so that you can now even find a few spirituals, such as "Go, Tell it on the Mountain" there, with German lyrics.
Most of today's Gospel choirs have been founded from the mid 80's to the late 90's and there's still progress. The movies Sister Act and Sister Act 2 along with Whitney Houston's Preacher's Wife also impacted, increasing the interest in Gospel music. At the same time, a few American ensembles started touring Germany regulary, and American artists living in Germany also started individual programs presenting Gospel music.
Some of these touring groups are well known in the United States, for example the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi, the Blind Boys Of Alabama, the Bill Moss Singers, Ricky Dillard & New G, Jessy Dixon and The Newberry Singers. Each deliver high quality, traditional, Gospel music.
Some Gospel music groups, on the other hand, are composed of Black Americans or Africans and are set up by local booking agencies or promoters just to draw an audience to concerts and make money with their 'exotic look and sound'. Though they are successful, their concerts are more along the lines of "Gospel Shows".
A notable influence on the German Gospel music scene came from the collaboration of American artists with the Norwegian Oslo Gospel Choir. They have been organizing workshops with many participants over the last several years.
One of the biggest workshops is "GoGospel" which attracts about 1000 gospel music lovers each year, teaching them to sing traditional and contemporary Gospel music. This festival is organized by the Norwegian Egil Fossum and features artists like Calvin Bridges and Cynthia Nunn from the United States.
Other workshops have been held by GMWA-authorized choir directors and other Americans but also by a few Germans who have been singing for years in choirs.
Germans like to have sheet music of the songs they're singing and often want to sing 'properly' and 'cleanly'. A lot of today's German Gospel choirs sing acappella. Most choirs are part of a church parish and sometimes you'll find there both a traditional church choir and a Gospel choir. Whereas the singers in the traditional German choirs are of each and every age, you'll find many younger people singing in the Gospel choirs. They all want to praise God with new songs, and enjoy the experience of common singing with others. Concerts by local Gospel choirs are numerous, and they're always well attended.
Another phenomenon in Germany is that Gospel concerts, unlike regular church services, are packed with people (on stage and in the audience) who do not necessarily belong to a church or who would even call themselves religious. They are attracted by the heavenly sound of the voices and the irresistable rhythms of today's Gospel music. This is especially so in the former East Germany, where after 40 years of socialism, only a small segment of the population is Christian. Many people get their first contact with the Good News through music.
Looking at the geographic distribution of the choirs, it's clear that there are many more in the West of Germany than in the East, which reflects on the distribution of number of Christians in Germany in general. But time will show that the East is catching up.
Most of the choirs have produced CDs independently, and they sell them during their concerts and over the internet. Major record deals for contemporary German Gospel artists are still dreams for the furture.
Some of today's established German pop artists, such Joy Flemming, Inga Rumpf or Xavier Naidoo to name a few, occasionally record a Gospel song, or songs influenced by Gospel music. They run quite successfully on the market but, of course, cannot keep up with record sales reached by their secular competitors.
On national broadcast, Black Gospel music still plays a minor role. There is only one Christian television channel, Bibel TV that has Gospel music more or less regularly on air. Berlin's Radio Paradiso has a weekly broadcast with one hour of American Gospel music; other regional studios have their programs of Gospel music, too.
Gospel music, this genuine Black American art form, has spread throughout the whole world, bringing people together to sing, listen to and experience the Good News.
It surely has planted its seed in Germany and it is clear that there are many who cherish it, and desire to see it continue to grow and bear fruit.
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