When Sunday Comes – Book Review

When Sunday Comes: Gospel Music in the Soul and Hip-Hop Eras (Music in American Life) by Claudrena N. Harold is a biography of the many who have contributed to contemporary gospel music over the last fifty years.

Written against the backdrop of the Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacist rallies in 2017, the book explores  the commercialisation of gospel music, as soul and hip-hop dominate the radio over the last three decades of the twentieth century. The book is subtle in its opinion that when gospel strays too far into being similar in style to secular music. The book introduces readers to James Cleveland, Andrae Crouch, Take 6, The Winans, Aretha Franklin and her Amazing Grace album, the Clark Sisters, Stevie Wonder, Milton Brunson (and the Thompson Community Singers), Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Kirk Franklin and Sounds of Blackness, as gospel evolved to become more urban contemporary.

Nostalgic despite my not being raised in the US, but being so influenced by the US on this side of the Atlantic, the African-American gospel culture has crept over to the Black British experience and I recognised names of many of the artists referred to in the book. The book also introduced me to artists such as James Cleveland who wrote the totemic song Peace Be Still. It is testament to him that his influence remains on the gospel music world today. This is not only down to his creation of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, but also down to the collaborations he had as well as the songs he created. For example, his recording of Amazing Grace with Aretha Franklin achieved both gospel and secular success.

I want to do for black publishing what James Cleveland does for gospel.

Toni Morrison, 1974

The book was thoroughly researched, and I had to pause reading as I also curated a playlist on Spotify based on the songs referenced throughout the book. Listening to the songs mentioned through the book brought it alive, as you could imagine choirs singing along. They also reawakened aural memories, as I realised I had heard some of these songs as they have featured heavily in films about the Black struggle in the USA, as well as general American cultural references.

As someone who grew up on Motown, it was really interesting to learn that Detroit was also a cultural home of gospel, as it was also the home of the Clark Sisters, the Winans and Commissioned. Consequently, it would be fair to say that Detroit is the spiritual and soulful home of African American music.

“Oppression was everywhere – the miner’s strike in England going on for months, Northern Ireland, Poland, Central America. The universality to the time was what we were trying to relate.”

Marvin Winans

The influence of the artists mentioned in When Sunday Comes on secular musicians such as Beyonce, Missy Elliot, Mariah Carey and Xscape is not to be ignored. Consequently, for anyone who is a fan of hip hop and RnB I would definitely recommend this book, even if you are not familiar with gospel music.

*** Thank you to Netgalley and University of Illinois Press for this advanced reader copy in exchange for this honest review.***

For the purpose of my 2021 reading challenge, this book fulfils the book featuring Black history prompt from the Black Girls Read Too list.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When Sunday Comes: Gospel Music in the Soul and Hip-Hop Eras  by Claudrena N. Harold is available to buy now. If you like my review why don’t you get your copy today!

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